Eternal Law Episodes 1 & 2

After Bonekickers, the Life on Mars/Ashes to Ashes creators Matthew Graham and Ashley Pharoah have something to prove. But their new ITV1 supernatural drama series looks unlikely to capture past glories…

 

2 stars

 

 

Air date: UK: 5 Jan and 12 Jan, ITV1, 9pm

 

3 angels in Eternal Law with wings 'n all

Back in 2008, riding high on the success of their hit BBC1 drama, Life on Mars, and it's subsequent spin-off, Ashes to Ashes, writing duo Ashley Pharoah and Matthew Graham unleashed their next high-concept show, the archaeological action adventure series, Bonekickers, onto an unsuspecting world.

 

A flop with both viewers and critics, the ghost of Bonekickers still haunts the careers of both Pharoah and Graham to such an extent that when their newest venture, ITV1's Eternal Law, was announced, the first thing that sprung to many peoples mind was: "I hope it's not another Bonekickers."

 

Unfortunately, that's almost exactly what it is.

 

Attempting to plough the same metaphysical furrow as Wim Wenders 1980's movie, Wings of Desire, as well as Powell and Pressburger's classic English fable, A Matter of Life and Death, Pharoah and Graham rather bizarrely choose to splice this story of angels living among mortals with a legal drama…set in York!

 

Now, the use of York as a location isn't necessarily a bad idea as long as the setting becomes an integral part of the show. Sadly, the presentation of the city on screen is so visually uninspiring (and identikit ITV grey in tone) that it chokes any sense of place – and wonder - right out of the gate.

 

Despite that, things start out as promising with our two lead angels, the cynical Zak (Samuel West) and the innocent Tom (Ukweli Roach), meeting for the first time in a field above the city, having just been sent down from heaven by the series' handily non-denominational God-figure, Mr Mountjoy.

 

It's a graceful and low-key moment, but unfortunately a flavour that is soon pushed to the margins as the two likeable, but poorly served leads descend upon the city below amidst a torrent of turgid exposition and plot imperative.

 

This sets the tone for the remainder of the first episode, rushing as it does through a checklist of events that aim to simultaneously set up the premise of the show and introduce the supporting cast, while also resolving the 'story-of-the- week' that our heroes ultimately find themselves embroiled in.

 

It's hard to say what's the weakest aspect of this maiden story, but the wooden spoon probably has to go to the ludicrous 'sniper' storyline that serves as the angels first 'case.' Played so broadly it's almost parody, and resolved in a final stand-off that's even less plausible to the rational mind than the concept of angels practicing law, it's an inauspicious start to the series...and that's being charitable!

 

2 angels sharing chips and beer on the roof of a church

With the basic heavy lifting out of the way, normally you'd expect the second episode to build upon the foundations of the first and give the show a really solid base. Unfortunately, while its sophomore outing does benefit from a less frenetic pace, it's once again hobbled by another mawkish, on-the-nose court case that forces you to roll your eyes at both its utter predictability and banal conclusion.

 

However, despite its various narrative shortcomings, Eternal Law's biggest failure is probably how it manages to completely waste an otherwise impressive cast.

 

Apart from West and Roach, both Orla Brady and Tobias Menzies - as housekeeper Mrs Sheringham and villainous fallen angel Richard Pembroke - are given very little to do in either of the first two episodes. This is a real shame as both characters have the potential to make an impact on the show, while both actors have shown before how strong they can be given the right material.

 

Fairing slightly better is Hattie Morahan as Hannah, the human barrister, who's caught between both Zak and Pembroke. Certainly, as with every other aspect of Eternal Law, this material is never anything other than painfully on-the-nose and utterly predictable, but at least it has some ring of truth to it.

 

And that, despite the clunky scripting, bog standard visuals and clotted mythology, is the fundamental problem that Eternal Law never manages to overcome: we just don't believe in the show.

 

In the press notes for the series, co-creator Matthew Graham says that Eternal Law is a 'pure fancy…(that) wears its heart on its sleeve (and) is hopefully a steaming mug of cocoa on dark winter's night.'

 

Nice sentiment. I wonder if they said the same about Bonekickers?

Ines Anderson

 

 

Eternal Law episodes 1 & 2 - Reviewed
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