TV Review'Bedlam,' slow build could drive you nutsBBC America horror series about an insane asylum takes its time
By Tom Conroy, Media Life Magazine
- October 6th, 2011
In one of those TV programming coincidences that occur more frequently than one might imagine, two cable channels have just premiered supernatural dramas about hard-to-unload real estate: FX's American Horror Story and BBC America's Bedlam.
It's an open question which building would be less appealing: the former show's mansion, in which the previous owners died in a murder-suicide, or the latter's apartment house, a converted insane asylum called Bedlam Heights, which comes complete with a graveyard on the grounds. But in terms of entertainment and chills, the American show beats the British.Airing on Saturdays at 9 p.m.
, Bedlam rather predictably lets us know early on that something creepy happened in the mental hospital before the renovations began, and also rather predictably, it doles out the clues slowly. Even at the end of the six episodes that the channel made available for review, we're not sure why so many deceased patients continue to haunt the place.
The episodes settle into a pattern in which a tenant has frightening visitations from a troubled spirit and then the complex's resident ghost whisperer, Jed (Theo James), helps the spirit find closure and stop bothering the living. This template has been worn out on American TV.
Worse, the scripts and direction fail to build much tension or release it in satisfying jolts. The tenants are constantly being watched by grungy people in hospital garb or nightgowns who appear in mirrors or reflected in windows and then vanish.
Jed's visions, which usually occur when he touches a possession of the deceased and often show him how the people died, leave him gasping for air. The repeated sight of him nervously reaching out toward an old letter or blanket, bracing himself for the sight of past tragedies, starts to become comical.
In the premiere, which aired last Saturday, Jed has been receiving text messages saying, Save Kate. Kate (Charlotte Salt) is his cousin, whose father, Warren (Hugo Speer), inherited the asylum after the death of his father, a doctor who had been accused of abusing inmates.
Jed, who was adopted by Warren's sister, has been in and out of mental institutions all his life, mainly because of his visions. Nonetheless, Kate lets him crash on her couch with her two roommates, Molly (Ashley Madekwe) and Ryan (Will Young).
It turns out that Kate has attracted the anger of the ghost of a former inmate who had been subjected to repeated duckings. The word drown begins to appear on steamy bathroom mirrors, and greenish water drips down the walls, an effect that will have most homeowners thinking, Who cares? It's a rental. Meanwhile, a view of the site where Ryan's brother drowned keeps showing up like a screen saver on his computers.
After much foreboding and exposition, the unhappy ghost is dispatched rather suddenly and anticlimactically.
In the second episode, airing this Saturday, a tenant who claims that an ex-boyfriend is stalking her receives repeated menacing phone calls. Her car, which she admits she stole from him, acts up on her, and tire marks repeatedly appear on her apartment floor.
In this and most of the episodes, Jed discovers a sort of poetic-justice link between the angry spirits and the person being haunted. That doesn't pack the same emotional wallop as stories in which the departed and the living have an actual personal connection.
A longer story arc gradually develops: The disappearance of a friend of Jed's flatmates may lead Jed to revelations about his parentage and the history of the asylum, which Kate's family has been running for centuries.
Since it's clear early on that the family has been up to no good, the search for specifics lacks urgency. But toward the end of the sixth episode, the plot starts to build some momentum.
Sadly, by that point, most of the viewers will have passed on Bedlam.http://www.medialifemagazine.com/art...e-you-nuts.asp