After last week’s bamboozler of an opener, tonight’s follow-up was an attempt to restore normal service with a return to the domestic comedy of earlier series.
Key to the comedy is, as so often, Annie, who channels her inner Sunday School teacher by lecturing Tom on his grammar and inventing new commandments. ‘Thou shall not hide stakes in my shrubbery’, indeed!
It’s a pastiche of Messianic prophecy in which there are deliberate echoes of Monty Python’s Life of Brian, and, in particular, of its most famous line. ‘She’s not the Saviour!’, insists Tom about Eve, while Annie admonishes Tom for being ‘a very naughty werewolf!’
At times, the script tries a little too hard to overplay the kookiness: the depiction of Pearl, Lou and Hal as the Three Wise Men feels like a subverted analogy too far, and, while it may be charming and funny to hear Annie quote ‘You Raise Me Up’ in Baby Eve’s energy-channelling ceremony, it is still a replay of the joke with the Vampire Recorder last week.
Still, it’s not all song lyrics and spells, and thanks to the introduction of new vampire, Hal (Damien Molony), there’s another chance for the show to depict the neuroses of the alpha male. Ostensibly more cerebral than Tom, and certainly better groomed, Hal’s streak of domino-erecting OCD masks an instinct infinitely more brutal than Tom’s blundering meatheadedness.
As this particular odd couple go off to find the one ring that will bind them as a household, Annie has a fight of a different kind on her hands with her new best frenemy, Pearl. It’s a reminder that horns can be locked in the domestic context, too, and of the ruthless suburban ambitions of the desperate housewife.
When Annie intuits that Pearl and Lou are in unrequited love with each other, she certainly earns Marple points for her powers of deduction. But given the easy intimacy with which Lou and Pearl behave towards each other throughout the episode, what’s truly astonishing is not that they are in love. It’s that, despite fifty-five years of domestic togetherness, they are not – and never were – the consorts they appear to be. Spotting that little twist is what’s really Jessica Fletcher.
And then there is the woman from the future who, until evidence to the contrary, we shall call ‘Eve’. Two episodes in and she is already grating with her portentous habit of interrupting TV and radio to urge on the apocalypse. Fifteen years ago, this might have been a neat conceit; but nowadays, after the Japanese horror film, Ringu, and the Weeping Angels episodes of Doctor Who, you want to file it under C for Cliché.
Looking like the love child of Natasha Kinski and Catherine Oxenberg, ‘Eve’ has done little yet to earn our dislike. Even so, it’s hard not to regard her as a plot device from a different drama altogether – one where characters are not defined by their charisma or wit, but by their capacity for melodrama.
Thank heavens, then, that the rest of the new characters are so engaging. If you ever doubted it for a minute, the gruesome scene at the end, when the leering wolf’s head looks on as Fergus devours the shopkeeper, is a certain sign of a show in rude health.
With a power struggle among the vampires, a Most Wanted sign on Hal’s head, and the Old Ones on their way, this is a programme which is doing more than rebooting itself. It’s raising itself up so it can stand on mountains.
Aired at 9pm on Sunday 12th February 2012 on BBC Three.
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