Saturday, September 17, 2005

Somewhere Inbetween 1x01 - 'Introductions'

WRITTEN BY: Lee A Chrimes
PREMIERE DATE: 06/11/2004
PRODUCED BY: Monster Zero Productions

We enter the world of unwilling vampire Christopher Berkeley and his smart-mouthed vampiric partner Twist McFadden as they both recount their pasts involving guardian angels, vampiric cures and a trip to Hell itself......

On the MZP network, undoubtedly one of the most popular and active virtual TV production forums on the Net, there are few shows as talked about or as held in high regard as Somewhere Inbetween. What with MZP most likely set to take up the bulk of my forthcoming online reviews of virtual television, I felt what is considered to be the jewel in the site's crown to be the best place to start in my odyssey through the online world of creativity being developed by a wave of fertile minds.

I couldn't help but feel a trifle intimidated when it came to reviewing this pilot. It came with such a pedigree, I wondered if I would be able to add my voice to it's supporters with any real point. I feared I would become one of it's detractors if I didn't like what I read. I also couldn't help experience a little weariness in the fact it appeared to be just another show about a pair of wise-aleck, streetwise, quip ready vampires battling demons every week while wrangling with personal issues and growing pains. In truth, the show is many of these things. Thankfully, though, it's so much more.

Right from the opening moments of page one, we are thrown into the thick of the action and introduced to our male protagonist, Christopher Berkeley, who wades in with a charismatic manner and a Japanese katana sword to boot. It's instantly clear we are dealing with a tortured soul, a vampire of the night who isn't exactly delighted about who, or indeed what, he is. It's only instantly clear we are in the middle of a flashback, part of a story Chris is recounting to his, as yet unseen, partner Twist. Right from the get-go, it's clear she will be the quip-ready one in this relationship.

From then on, the pilot episodes splits essentially into two narratives. The first half covers Chris' backstory, the second that of Twist McFadden, the overall structure of the episode concerning a conversation between these two in which they are recounting their pasts to one another in an effort to make their present situation clear. In doing this, writer Lee Chrimes wastes no time in setting up certain fascinating characters and mysteries in these flashbacks he leaves us dangling with. And thankfully, the clarity of the episode doesn't suffer in this disjointed approach to the storytelling. Each narrative of Chris and Twist is easy to follow, and ultimately leaves you wanting more.

So, in the first half, we learn all about Chris. A bright young Englishman, born of the Midlands (a nod indeed to Chrimes' Brummie origins which I can appreciate, as I share them), who after a vicious attack one night by a vampiric scavenger is saved by his guardian angel in the form of the enigmatic Sanctus. He appears to believe Chris has a purpose, that he needed to be saved for a specific reason, which he doesn't elaborate on. It's possible this is because he doesn't know it himself, but it's clear Sanctus is one of those characters who knows a great deal. A born mentor. He transforms Chris into 'something inbetween', something more than either a human or vampire, something with a destiny. Though something that also needs blood to survive. It's when Chris recounts how he took the innocent life of a woman he knew in a savage manner to satisfy this primal bloodlust that the episode kicks up a gear. A rich vein of dark comedy runs throughout the episode, which helps prevent it becoming too po-faced, but this moment of darkness serves to highlight what the show can achieve. And makes it clear Chris is set-up as a traditional anti-hero, a heart of darkness operating in service of the greater good.

Other enigmas are served by Chris' backstory. Early on, we hear the name 'Malkuth', a reclusive powerful figure who Chris needs to satisfy his bloodlust without having to resort to the mindless savagery he regretted so much at the beginning. What hold does he have over Chris? Why is it said he owns a piece of his soul?. And other mysteries: who really is Sanctus, why was he watching Chris for years before 'saving him', what is the cure to vampirism he promises Chris exists and why does he think Chris is destined of a purpose? Does Chris have the white witch powers within him his mother did before her tragic death? Or does utilising them open a gateway to true evil? By how he came into contact with Twist, that could be the case.

Which brings us nicely to the yang to Chris' yin: Twist McFadden. An attractive young woman who literally drops through a vortex into Chris' life, filled with a primordial fear and anger based upon wherever she came from. Chris ultimately nurses her back to the Twist we come to know, the young, fiesty, smart-mouthed girl, but not one who hasn't suffered quite a traumatic past. Her backstory reveals a chance happening that leads to her enforced vampirism and years tooling round as the groupie of a biker gang, encouraged into killing mercilessly into satisfying her bloodlust, until that brings her very close to home. Once again, it's here the episode takes on a deeper component.

Twist was forced into the life of darkness and succumbed to it, until she was faced with having to kill her own mother and baby sibling to satisfy not only her hunger, but those who made her what she is. She turns away from it, revealing the humanity within, which ultimately leads to her banishment to Hell itself and an eternity it seems of turmoil. The episode is clearly out to display parallels: Chris and Twist have both experienced similar paths, and both are seeking redemption. Neither want to be what they are, hate what they've become. And when Chris' white magic portal somehow taps into Hell and drags Twist into his life, both realise they are imbued with purpose. Both seek the chance to start over and believe the vampirism cure is the key. This is the soul of their partnership, and this quest the soul of the series.

Ultimately, with this pilot, Chrimes manages to overcome many of the shortcomings pilots face: a weak plot, struggling to find the character's voices, etc. That's not to say it's not flawed: there IS no plot as such. No driving narrative exactly. The episode is made up of past events and consequently it hits a little on the nose that we're new to this world and Chris and Twist are new to each other. It really is all about introductions, and perhaps could have been a little more subtle about this fact; also, there are moments that feel recycled. The katana sword seems a little too Blade; the scene with Chris bringing the bird back to life is taken straight from The 4400; and the Hell portal is straight from Buffy. These moans aside, though, this is a remarkably assured pilot episode that leaves you anticipating more, and due to impressive grammar and (mostly) formatting, is quite a pleasure to read.

STYLE: 2/2

DEPTH: 1.5/2



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