‘Eternal Law’: Episode 1 review

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ITV1’s Eternal Law is a new legal drama with a twist – its two lawyer protagonists are no mere law-school graduates but angels sent to earth by their boss Mr. Mountjoy (otherwise known as God) to help humanity.

This may seem like familiar territory to anyone who’s seen messianic US TV series Touched by an Angel that ran for an impressive nine years from 1994 to 2003, but the first episode introduces another element to the narrative: not only must the two protagonists contend against an at-times fallible human legal system but they must pit their wits against the forces of darkness as represented by cunning lawyer and fallen angel Richard Pembroke (Tobias Menzie).

The writing duo behind the six-part series, Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes creators Ashley Pharaoh and Matthew Graham, are past masters in the art of writing procedural shows with a supernatural element, and the show is unlikely to suffer the fate of longer shows written on the hoof (including Ashes to Ashes, some might say) and lose its way.

The first episode opens with rookie angel and ex-chorister Tom Greening (Ukweli Roach) arriving on earth with a bump to be shown the ropes by his more jaded mentor, Zak Gist (Samuel West).

Wearing human guises makes both angels subject to the same temptations as ordinary mortals, including women and the temptation to abuse their supernatural powers by intervening in the choices people make.

Cue the enigmatic Mrs. Sheringham (Fringe‘s Orla Brady) whose job it is to keep them from getting side-tracked by their feelings. But is Mrs. Sheringham, who has a secret or two of her own, up to keeping Zak’s mind on the task in hand when he bumps into Hannah (Hattie Morahan), the woman he loved in another life? And can the two lawyer-angels win their first case, clearing a guy of attempted murder, when not only do they have bad angel Richard Pembroke on prosecution but the guy himself seems hell-bent on pleading guilty?

With its stand-alone procedural format, the show promises to be an easy watch for those who like their suspense neatly wrapped-up by the end of each episode. In this first episode the world of the show isn’t as clearly set-out as it could be though.

Viewers may find the angels’ ‘no intervention’ rule a bit confusing. For example, rookie angel Tom is allowed to physically subdue a villain but his mentor Zak gets a scolding for ‘intervening’ by influencing a witness’s thoughts at a crucial juncture, the difference in the two actions presumably being that Tom’ doesn’t intervene using his angelic powers whereas Zak does. You may find yourself wondering why Mr. Mountjoy bothers to send his angels to earth in the first place if they aren’t allowed to act like angels.

Where the opening episode comes into its own is in its setting-up of the conflict between the angels’ celestial and human sides. Will Zak succumb to temptation and fall for Hannah all over again? Will the angels be able to work within Mr. Mountjoy’s no-intervention rule or will they end up breaking it once too often and getting into trouble?

The first episode asks some more questions that will hopefully be answered in later episodes, such as whether ex-choir-boy Tom can prove himself both to his mentor and to bad-boy angel Richard and whether Richard is going to turn out to be more of a force to be reckoned with than the starry-eyed Tom anticipated, both in the courtroom and out of it.

Ground-breaking it is not, but Eternal Law is well-paced with sympathetic protagonists and promises to be an enjoyable take on the angels-on-earth situational drama.

Aired at 9pm on Thursday 5th January 2012 on ITV1.

> Buy the Series 1 DVD on Amazon.

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