Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Review: Jekyll (Series One)

Everyone has a dark side. This is the theme of today's post. We may appear trustworthy members of society but underneath may lurk a secondary savage nature. The side you try to hide. the side you try to bury deep and the side that may come to the fore and close this tab if I keep up this melodramatic introduction. So, as Gothic Creatures month continues, we turn our two-faced heads to inspect a new take on a classic tale...

Three years before he reinvented Sherlock Holmes as a modern-day sleuth, Steven Moffat brought another icon of late-Victorian literature into the 21st century - the tragic Dr Jekyll and his twisted other half, Mr Hyde.
Jekyll, a sequel to the Robert Louis Stevenson original, sees James Nesbitt (ubiquitous on British television back in 2007, he can now be seen as Bofur in The Hobbit films) as Dr Tom Jackman, a man who is suffering from serious split personality. Cutting himself off from his job, friends and family, he is determined to defeat his inner demons before they - or should that be 'he' - can bring harm to his loved ones. Jackman, a descendant of Dr Jekyll, can trust no one - not even himself. 

As one can expect from Steven Moffat, the king of complex plots, this short six-part series (no more were produced) hurtles at a strong pace and is unpredictable to the extreme. While this is far from being the only reimagining of Jekyll and Hyde, to take the Victorian gothic novel and turn it into a contemporary conspiracy thriller show as this does is really quite inspired. Thankfully, however, Jekyll manages to never take itself too seriously and supplies another thing one will always find in Moffat's work; more than a handful of humour. Mr Hyde - oh, yes, he still calls himself that - is portrayed as a camp, so-mad-he-loves-being-evil villain in the vein of John Simm's The Master and, later, Andrew Scott's Moriarty and so regularly gets you laughing with him, despite his nasty nature. 
Across the episodes, there are some stonking great classics of Moffat dialogue. My favourite has to go to the following exchange that's played to deadpan perfection by Nesbitt:

Jackman finds a CD titled 'Disney Favourites' on his desk
Tom: What's this?
Katherine: It's his.
Tom: He has Disney favourites?
Katherine: He likes the songs.
Tom: My dark side likes Mary Poppins. No wonder I was bullied at school.

The cast is filled out ably by familiar actors to any British TV viewer, including Meera Syal, Denis Lawson and Michelle Ryan. Ryan plays Katherine, Jackman's capable assistant who helps keep Hyde at bay (by giving him Disney CDs, apparently) while Syal and Fenella Woolgar (Who's Agatha Christie) play a pair of lesbian private detectives - clear forebears of Moffat's much-loved crinolined crime-fighting duo Madame Vastra and Jenny. They are all entertaining additions to the cast but sadly fall a bit by the wayside in the series' latter half as the plot spirals all over the place (in a good way). On the plus side, though, Gina Bellman who is underused in the first episodes gets a chance to shine as Jackman's suffering wife.
As the issues with character above suggests, the show does have its problems. The biggest being that there's something about it that means the series as a whole just doesn't click. It's certainly great fun to watch but it is the show's inability to ever quite come together that keeps the production from reaching the heights of Sherlock and Moffat's Doctor Who. While the writing runs the show and the actors carry it well, it seems like one-part generic TV drama and one-part bonkers, innovative stuff. The series was clearly designed as a vehicle for Nesbitt, who plays both roles with either suitable restraint or bouncing energy, and also allows Moffat to go solo on a big-game drama project for the first time. Perhaps it is these manufactured beginnings that stop Jekyll being a truly great piece of television.

On the whole, Jekyll is a hugely enjoyable series with sharp writing and solid performances but one that never quite fires on all cylinders. With elements of both pure genius and mediocrity, Jekyll really is a show split down the middle, meaning that the series may leave the viewers themselves in two minds.  

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