The world is ending. We've heard it a million times before. It's probably a good thing that I had no idea what 'The Fades' was about, because after 2011 I was apocalypse'd out. Granted, the end of the world is inherently the world's biggest conflict when it comes to storytelling, but after so many times it's easy to become desensitized to its imminent demise. If I had known beforehand that the BBC-produced 'The Fades' was about a world one the brink of utter destruction I think I'd have passed it over. That would've been a mistake.
Paul (Iain De Caestecker) is an outcast at school. He's the kid in the hoodie that seems to always be in the corner, away from the crowd. His best friend, Mac (Daniel Kaluuya), is the school's biggest geek. He's constantly quoting 'Star Wars' and other science fiction films. Mac is one of the best parts of the show. Even though he's an outcast like Paul, he has the series' most witty and hilarious lines. Paul has dreams, most notably a recurring dream where the world has turned to ash. He then promptly wakes up with his bed covered in his own urine. Life isn't kind to its outcasts.
The first episode of the series gets things going rather quickly. Paul, haunted by his peculiar dreams, has a chance run-in (or was it fate?) with a man named Neil (Johnny Harris). Neil is the standard "I know more than I'm letting on character" who has to exist in any kind of sci-fi/supernatural show. After Paul sees what appear to be dead people, Neil explains to him the story behind The Fades. These are people who haven't yet ascended to heaven and have been stuck on Earth in a sort of limbo. They're mean and vindictive because they feel they've been forgotten. Now The Fades, who haven't ever been able to interact with the physical world have suddenly developed touch. It's a mystery to Neil as to why.
If The Fades are allowed to become too powerful they can take over the Earth, which will almost assuredly lead to the ash-covered world that Paul continuously dreams about.
Even though this is a story that has been told again and again in one form or another, it's the clever writing and dialogue in this show that really sets it apart from the pack. There's a certain tongue-in-cheek nature about the way this show goes about its business. Like the WB's 'Supernatural,' this show has a humor about itself. Like it's almost making fun of the serious situation that has presented itself. Any show that can insinuate that Tolkien had a twisted sense of sexuality and a fear of vaginas because of his use of the Eye of Mordor is a show I can get behind (thanks Mac!).
There's a deeper aspect of the series that also keeps it interesting. Paul's relationship with Mac is what keeps him grounded after he starts seeing dead people everywhere. Since Mac is a geek he believes his best friend without a hint of cynicism. He's there for his buddy no matter what. Paul is also dealing with a contentious relationship with his twin sister and an overprotective mother. There's also a girl he likes who roams the neighborhood with his sister, which serves to befuddle Paul when he tries to learn the ways of women.
This not just about the supernatural side of things. While it's funny, there's a certain sincerity in how Paul deals with his newfound powers and how he struggles to keep some normalcy in his life. It parallels a superhero story in a lot of ways.
I have been pleasantly surprised with 'The Fades' and hope that it gets renewed. There has been no word yet from the BBC if they're going to continue on with a second season, but I really hope they do. Hopefully, it doesn't get cut short like 'Outcasts' another interesting BBC show that got axed when ratings didn't live up to expectations.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
This BBC release comes in a 2-disc Blu-ray set. Each disc is a 50GB Blu-ray Disc. If you see this on the store shelves you may mistake the cheap artwork on the front cover – which seems like a fast cut-and-paste job – as something from a subpar distributor like Echo Bridge. Just know that isn't the case. Video
Like many BBC Blu-rays 'The Fades' comes to the format with a 1080i AVC-encoded video presentation. Let's start with the good. Fine detail is fairly consistent throughout the series. The brooding nature of the photography offers a darker-than-normal image, but crimson blood and colorful plumes of clothing pop. Scratches, scrapes, scabs, scars and every other flesh wound you can receive from fighting the undead are clearly defined here during close-ups, as are fine hair, stubble, and pores.
Being 1080i, there are some drawbacks however. Minor blocking issues arise in the darkest of areas on the screen as compression noise rears its ugly head. Shadows are a crushing presence most of the time offering up a flat, depthless field of view whenever the show is bathed in low light (which is a lot of the time). Banding and aliasing are also noticeable throughout the series. These are the same problems I've seen over and over when it comes to 1080i presentations from British television. Some releases, like 'Human Planet,' overcome the limitations, but others, like 'The Fades,' somehow accentuate it.
Visual effects also take a hit. There's quite a lot of computer-generated effects used in the show, which appear with varying degrees of success. Think about shows like 'Smallville' or 'Supernatural' and you know the kind of CG you're in for. The high-definition only emphasizes its hit-or-miss qualities.
I've become accustomed to receiving British television shows with lossy stereo audio tracks. At least 'The Fades' has a lossless track accompanying it. It is, however, only a 2.0 stereo track, but at least its DTS-HD Master Audio.
The problem that most people might find is that this is a recently filmed show, so there's really no discernible reason why it shouldn't have a surround sound mix of 5.1 or better, to go along with it. As it is now, the entire show – sound effects, dialogue, and soundtrack – are all centralized in the front two speakers. It's a little disappointing to say the least. Yes, dialogue is clear and directionality works as good as it can with only two speakers to work with. The mix seems to get overwhelmed when there's a lot going on though. Music, low-end frequencies, and dialogue all vying for dominance instead of being spread around and given room to breathe. It's a serviceable mix, but no doubt fans of the show were hoping for an immersive surround sound mix.
I like 'The Fades' a lot. I like its tongue-in-cheek humor about fanboyism and the internet age. Even though it's another end-of-the-world story, there's still a lot to like about it, including its well-rounded characters and its attention to humor even when the situations seem dire. If you haven't seen the show, I definitely recommend checking it out. Fans will pick up this set regardless, but this is a show for anyone who likes good TV.