Judge Josh Rode's future is so bright, he's gotta wear...never mind.
"You're going to your own funeral?"
Shown as a mini-series in England under the title Hereafter, Shades took twelve years and the good folk at Acorn Media to cross the pond. Think Dead Like Me meets As Time Goes By, with half the humor of the former and none of the latter's charm.
Facts of the Case
Mark (Stephen Tompkinson, Wild at Heart) and Maeve (Dervla Kirwan, Ballykissangel) are about as opposite as two people can be. He's stoic, she's chatty. He was happily married, she was single and dating a married man. In fact, the only things they have in common are that they died on the same day, and they seem to be the only ghosts around. They wander London together trying to figure out the rules of their new existence. For instance, no one who met them in life can see them. They can speak to strangers, but the strangers forget the meeting as soon as they leave sight. They can't touch anyone without getting a strong shock, nor does anything they write stay permanent.
It's within the context of these limits that they try to invest their deaths with meaning. Maeve wants to find the driver of the red car that ran her over. Mark just wants to ensure that his family is safe and secure, a tenuous bet since he had run his business into the ground just before he died, leaving them broke.
As one would expect from a British drama, the characters and the acting in Shades are very good. Mark is uptight, at times to the point of aggravation. He's dead, no one he knows will see him, no one he meets will remember him, but he mules at the thought of entering a gay bar to help Maeve's brother. Yet he is still able to adapt to strange situations without batting an eyelash. Mark is a prototypical English man, and Tompkinson gives him a slight dry wit that does more to emphasize his straight-laced nature than infuse him with humor. Maeve matches him and then some as an eternal optimist, despite the difficulties life has presented her. It's only with her continual prompting that Mark does anything but follow his family around all day. Kirwan fills her with so much energy and vigor that it's a wonder Maeve doesn't spontaneously come back to life.
That said, Shades is not a tremendously fantastic show. It has all the right ingredients—good premise, solid cast, real characters—but wrestles with a serious identity issue. It's riddled with moments straight from a Hugh Grant-style comedy, such as when Mark gets stuck in a locked room with a hysterical bride-to-be, or the aforementioned gay bar scene. But then it fails to capitalize, preferring to play each situation as straight drama. The drama is, in turn, undermined by the comedic setup, meaning the show's pathos generally runs about as deep as a tidepool. There are exceptions. Mark's longing hunger to hold his children is very touching and, because of the heights of her emotional peaks, Maeve's saddest moments carry a good deal of weight; when she meets someone who might have been the love of her life, had she any left, her pain is palpable. But moments like these come too far apart to balance the flippant overall feel.
Shade's other problem is a lack of story balance. Each episode contains a challenge for Maeve and Mark, such as finding a baby's mother, or helping an old man with a secret, and they do what they can within their limits. Things go awry as their help has unintended consequences, then everything gets straightened out and resolved. In the meantime, Mark broods over his children and Maeve frets about her cheating boyfriend. But the overarching storyline—why are they ghosts, and what can they do about it?—isn't talked about much until the final episode, when the issue is dumped full force in everyone's collective lap. Since there is no continual musing on the subject, the audience never gets a concrete feel for the characters' goals. This makes it difficult to judge where they are in their journey except by counting the number of discs left to watch.
Still, the characters and generally solid writing make for an enjoyable viewing experience. The limitations imposed by the characters' state gives the writers some interesting challenges when it comes to attempting to resolve the problems the characters come across, and there is genuine emotional value in every episode.
Presented in standard definition 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, the transfer is clean of grain or defects, offering fairly deep and balanced colors. The Dolby 2.0 stereo is adequate for a show that is mostly talk. There are no extras.
Shades is somewhat less than the sum of its parts. It's a fine show, and has a reasonably original premise with likeable characters played by good actors. If it had been able to choose between drama and comedy, it might have been truly great.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Acorn Media
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