Much like Lost Girl, The Fades is a recent import to American television, though it’s of much more recent vintage (originally airing on BBC Three in the fall of 2011) and far, far shorter. Like many BBC series, it’s limited to half a dozen episodes, and four of these have aired on BBC America so far, as part of the channel’s “Supernatural Saturday” lineup, which has typically included such series as the original Being Human, Bedlam, and of course Doctor Who. At this time, a second series has not been officially commissioned, though its chances are good.
The Fades fits neatly into the “Chosen One” sub-genre, joining such shows as Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Demons. The premise is straightforward, though as the series goes on, it becomes increasingly bizarre and complex in its execution: the dead are not leaving the Earth. Where once they ‘ascended’ naturally, they are increasingly trapped on the mortal plane, reduced to ghost-like beings called Fades. Worse still, some of the Fades have learned to regain physical form, mainly by consuming human blood and flesh. These rogue Fades are opposed by the Angelics – humans with the ability to perceive the Fades (where most humans cannot, unless they’re in fully corporeal form) as well as other useful gifts. As the series begins, a 17-year-old boy named Paul discovers that he himself is one of these Angelics – and not only that, but one of the most powerful Angelics in living memory, with powers far beyond any of the others. He soon meets said others, who urge him to abandon his family and friends and devote himself full-time to the fight, but he chooses to try and balance his life as an Angelic and a typical teenage boy, despite the inherent complications.
The series has its strengths and weaknesses. Though I’ve enjoyed it so far, I can’t call it an especially feminist show in any way. It fails the Bechdel Test completely, because female characters rarely interact with one another, never seem to have a conversation that doesn’t at least touch on the men in their lives, and are honestly under-utilized, despite some notable and talented women in the regular cast (including Natalie Dormer, late of The Tudors and now playing Margaery Tyrell on Game of Thrones; and Lily Loveless, most famous for playing one half of Naomily on Skins). My favorite character, Jay (played by Sophie Wu), is a fun, spunky, confident brunette who favors close-cropped hair and striped blazers…and she’s barely defined outside of her roles as Paul’s love interest (and the literal object of his sexual fantasies) and one of his sister Anna’s best friends. We don’t even see most of her conversations with Anna, who is played by the aforementioned Lily Loveless and portrayed as little more than Paul’s snotty, outgoing, popular twin sister. Natalie Dormer’s character is literally killed off in the first episode, and while this doesn’t keep her from playing a part in the events that follow (since the series is about the undead, after all), it doesn’t give her a whole lot to do. She ends up spending most of her time hanging around her ex-husband, who is aware of her presence but unable to perceive her in any meaningful way.
That said, it’s not unwatchable or irredeemable. While I would prefer to see more of the female characters and their interactions with one another, and the regular cast feels quite a lot like a boys’ club, it is a very strongly written show with a truly creepy, sometimes downright frightening atmosphere. The opening credits are perfect for setting the mood, the special effects are weird, fantastic and sometimes quite scary (though also quite gory on occasion, just to warn you), and the actors playing the various Fades move and behave in suitably strange and unsettling ways. Paul’s powers are treated with a blend of wonder and terror touched with a dash of humor, and the show takes a lot of unexpected twists and turns. Anything can happen and anyone can die.
The show’s true strength, however, lies in the relationship between Paul and his best friend Mac. Both of them are unrepentant geeks and social outcasts, which does sort of feed into a male geek power fantasy, but also works surprisingly well with the tone of the series and gives the target demographic an easy point of entry to the world of The Fades. More importantly, however, their relationship is the sort of unapologetically close male friendship rarely seen on modern television. Their bond is powerful and unbreakable, and they genuinely worry for and care about one another, despite the occasional spat. Mac’s role as Paul’s confidant also puts him in the perfect position to provide each episode’s opening recap, explaining recent events to the audience through his webcam and (amusingly) signing off each time with “Nanu nanu“. While these recaps are generally humorous in tone, they also offer insight into Mac’s state of mind, and in the wake of particularly troubling events, they can become quite moving.
It’s rare to see young men on television not only acknowledge other men as their best friends, but also as people they literally need to have in their lives. So often, that kind of close friendship is strictly and exclusively the territory of female characters. Men are generally encouraged to bottle up their emotions and make light of their relationships, when in fact friendship is vitally important to people of all genders. It’s refreshing to see a friendship between two men portrayed as a warm, close-knit and necessary relationship. In that respect, The Fades breaks out of the usual mold, and becomes something quite special.
The show has a long way to go, and if it does return for a second series, I hope more emphasis will be placed on the female characters. Anna’s status as Paul’s twin sister has already come into play and been invested with mystical significance, so it wouldn’t be too surprising if she turned out to be an Angelic herself; even if she doesn’t, new Angelics could always be introduced. While the focus of the series is on Paul, it does edge into ensemble show territory at times, and it wouldn’t be too difficult to follow a second protagonist. For all its flaws, though, The Fades is highly entertaining and a great addition to BBC America’s Supernatural Saturdays. I’ll certainly be watching the last two episodes, and if the show does return for a second series, I’ll happily give it a chance.