Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Review: Neil Gaiman's Likely Stories (Series One)

This mini anthology series based on Neil Gaiman's short stories is a real treat for fans of the author. Here's our review...

Seeing as many of Neil Gaiman’s novels are being mined by film and TV, it was only natural that his short stories would get their turn, too. Enter Neil Gaiman’s Likely Stories, which brings four tales from the writer’s short story collections to the small screen. It’s a difficult task to adapt the writer’s often opaque (in a good way) fiction, but thankfully the series manages it.

Likely Stories actually comprises a bunch of fairly uncommon Gaiman stories – perhaps due to budget restrictions, they are less fantastical then his more famous works. That said, each episode exists in that strange space that the writer’s work inhabits that is somewhere between our world and a place of fantasy. Certainly, they are very adult stories and will startle those only familiar with Gaiman through the likes of Coraline and Doctor Who. For hardcore Gaimaniacs, though, there is much to enjoy in these eerie, unsettling and profound tales.

The four stories are ‘Foreign Parts’, ‘Feeders and Eaters’, ‘Closing Time’ and ‘Looking For The Girl.’ Interestingly, ‘Feeders…’ was my favourite, despite – or perhaps because – it was the one I least remembered reading. Other episodes of the series utilise that common Gaiman device, the story within a story, but I think this is the most effective. It follows a waitress as she is told a bizarre story about a youthful-looking old lady and a missing cat. Though it's only twenty five minutes long, it packs in a lot of twists which make it just as unpredictable as a nightmare – indeed, Gaiman got the story from a dream of his.

In a clever move, each episode features a core cast of players, which suits how these pieces wear their status as fiction on their sleeves. Monserrat Lombard, Paul Rutter and Monica Dolan each take on a variety of roles, although one-off guest stars appear, too – including The Game’s Tom Hughes. Just like all anthology series should (The Twilight Zone, for instance), there is a brilliantly haunting theme from Jarvis Cocker.

But the real draw is, of course, Gaiman’s writing. One success of this series is how, though they embellish and add when they see fit, each episode resists the urge to explain everything. One of the best things about Gaiman's short stories is you never have everything spelled out to you - he gives you enough to work with, but withholds just as much to keep things nicely ambiguous. Another really nice touch is how Gaiman himself appears in each episode, quoting from his introductions to the stories he gives in his short story collections Fragile Things and Smoke and Mirrors. It gives the author himself a supernatural aspect, like he's a god subtly overlooking his own little kingdom. 

None of these tales are actually any of my particular favourite Gaiman shorts, so I would love to see a second series adapt, say, 'Chivalry' or 'The Price' or maybe even 'A Study in Emerald.' Thankfully, given the success of this first series, I think a return run is quite a likely story indeed.

Neil Gaiman tells us some likely stories in this eerie collection of short tales.

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