Friday, May 11, 2007

Primeval (Episodes 1 & 2)

Having missed it when broadcast I’ve now caught up on the first two episodes of ITV’s Primeval. What a fun show. Exactly what Saturday night entertainment should be. Filled with spectacle, action, humour, scares and a little bit of flirting.

The premise is that space/time anomalies are appearing randomly across Britain forming portals from our time to the distant past… and we do mean distant. These portals allow anyone or anything to pass back in time to a prehistoric age. The real problem though is when creatures from millennia ago come through to our time and terrorise Asda car parks.
A small team of experts in zoology drift together and find themselves working with the government to identify and contain these anomalies. There is also a subplot regarding Henshaw’s characters wife, missing some eight years, who may be tied into the anomalies in some way.

The realisation of ancient monsters running amuck in familiar modern settings is staggeringly effective, particularly when obvious CGI elements interact with the physical set. This happens so regularly that it must be deliberate showing off but why not. The glossy sheen of the program with its slick editing and contemporary music makes for very exciting family tea time telly.

The cast are enthusiastic and likeable with only Douglas Henshaw and James Murray taking a little time to warm up. By the start of the second episode though everyone has settled into their role.

Particularly noteworthy in the cast are Andrew Lee Potts whose geek computer expert provides much of the humour, and Lucy Brown as the permanently bewildered Home Office dogsbody lumbered with keeping the time/space anomalies under wraps.

One of the most fun aspects of the series is that this team of academics and civil servants are very much making this up as they go. Naturally nobody knows what to do when you have a fifteen foot centipede in the London Underground so they have to improvise. So far they don’t always get things right which means all the more fun for us.

If Hannah Spearritt is going to make a habit of running around in just her pants a suspicion may arise that she’s only there for the Dads but I’m sure the powers that be are willing to take that chance.

The only other minus points on these early episodes are the somewhat cartoonish James Lester, as played by Ben Miller; and the slightly off target geek chums of Connor who are just a little too crudely stereotyped to ring true. If Hannah Spearritt is going to make a habit of running around in just her pants a suspicion may arise that she's only there for the Dad's but the powers that be are likely to be willing to take that chance. She's is actually very engaging with her jeans on too.

The best thing about Primeval is that despite clearly being ITV’s answer to Doctor Who it wasn’t scheduled against it. In the 1980’s genre television fans often had to choose between Doctor Who and The A-Team, or Knight Rider or Robin of Sherwood. As Colin Baker (The Sixth Doctor) once pointed out in an interview these practices split the same audience straight down the middle. Hopefully the success of shows like Doctor Who, Primeval and Robin Hood can cultivate an audience, and a demand, for quality genre TV drama all year round. Perhaps then Graham Nortons’ National Lottery presents Tropical Strictly Celebrity X Factor can be cancelled before it starts.

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