It’s actually rare you get to see something which is both metaphorically and literally ‘car crash television’. Sky’s new drama, Curfew, feels as though it was devised via a game of Consequences: an illegal street race, in a totalitarian regime, undergoing a nighttime zombie apocalypse. If only it actually had the same level of cohesion or plausibility. This really is TV of the highest ordure, and it certainly isn’t firing on all cylinders.
Curfew is one of these ‘five minutes into the future’ programmes, showing us a United Kingdom where a curfew is enforced by an authoritarian government which puts anyone found out of their homes at night into quarantine, due to a virus which is turning people into zombie-like creatures. If the makers had the slightest scintilla of wit or intelligence, they could’ve turned a depiction of a failing society into a biting satire of Brexit, which would’ve at least made it feel contemporary or relevant in some small measure, or given it a bit of edge. However, it quickly becomes very evident that they aren’t operating on that sort of level, alas.
One glimmer of hope for the population is an illegal street race run by Max Larssen (Adam Brody), mysterious megalomaniac millionaire who offers the participants a chance at a new life away from the horror of the virus infestation, and the nighttime curfew. The question is whether anyone will actually live long enough to make it to the finishing line (and I’d actually be tempted to include the audience in that).
You can’t always judge a book by its cover, but you can occasionally judge a show by its opening credits. The title sequence for Curfew looks as though it was ripped out of an early 90’s video game. Frankly, I’d be embarrassed to have produced something this shoddy, let alone actually approved it for use. It can never be a good sign to get a horrible sinking feeling right at the start of a brand new programme, and it firmly sets your ‘whelmed’ status to ‘under’. So far, so dud.
The main character featured in this first episode is Kaye Newman (Phoebe Fox), a paramedic who seemingly has links to the outbreak of the zombie virus, through her mother who is shown in flashbacks as a doctor or scientist, but is now hidden in a bedroom in Kaye’s house, after having at some point been infected. As Kaye’s our main focus, you’d hope that she might be likeable, sympathetic or endearing; the makers, however, appear to have other ideas. How much of this is down to the writing and how much the acting remains to be seen. However, Fox has turned in a performance so bland, if it was a packet of crisps, it wouldn’t even be Ready Salted, it would be Plain. She emotes like someone reading the phone book, and they might as well have employed a Speak & Spell.
Kaye’s sister Ruby (Aimee-Ffion Edwards) has recently sprung Kaye’s ex – and Ruby’s new – boyfriend, Michael (Malachi Kirby) from some kind of institution, and they’re both taking part in the big race. Edwards has all the aura and screen presence of someone who’s recently graduated – albeit barely scraping through – from drama school, and manages to deliver all her lines as if she’s reading them off an autocue. It doesn’t help that some of the dialogue she’s given sounds especially unnatural at times, as if it’s been written for someone who knows that they’re actually in a drama, rather than being done in a more realistic and conversational style. So far, we’ve got two main characters here with all the warmth and personality of a boiled sweet.
Ruby and Michael are on the run in a high-performance sports car when we meet them, being pursued through the streets of London by the security forces. You can tell they’re pitching ‘dystopian’ here, as the equivalent of the Police all drive armoured cars and wear lots of black body armour. This chase leads to some of the most howlingly bad CGI it’s been my misfortune to encounter in a supposedly professional production. For starters, the car defies physics when it moves in the effects shots, and seems less convincing and realistic than something like Grand Theft Auto. Or even Outrun. Even with an all-star cast no doubt eating up the budget, you’d think they could’ve kept a few quid back for the visuals. Shoddy, amateurish and cringeworthy.
We see through flashbacks that Michael was disabled five years ago, which is when he and Kaye first crossed paths – he was sent for a revolutionary treatment which was intended to try and restore mobility, but it appears there was an unintended and rather nasty side effect, as it’s hinted very strongly that the research that was being done by Kaye and Ruby’s mother Helen (Harriet Walter) may have ended up causing the zombie virus. As Kaye and Michael were also once an item, there’s an attempt to create tension between them, and with Ruby as well; however, as there’s no discernible charisma between any of them, it’s sadly all in vain. There’s an indication that Michael may be the key to finding a cure to the virus; I just wish there was a cure for the extreme boredom I’ve been experiencing, which is far more lethal.
Sean Bean turns up as Errol ‘The General’ Chambers, who seems to be very firmly on the wrong side of the law, with all sorts of dodgy dealings going on. It’s Sean Bean, so you know what you’re going to get: a gruff, no-nonsense Northern, with lots of swearing, and a virtual certainly that he’s not going to make it to the finish line. He does seem to be phoning it in a bit, and it feels like he’s capable of imbuing the part with far more than he’s been given on the page, yet he’s holding back. Mainly, he’s just there for the effing and jeffing that the writers have unnecessarily thrown in, just that so we know what we’re watching is supposed to be gritty and adult. With ‘The General’ doing double crosses left and right, and participating in the race, he may at least be worth watching out for.
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It’s also nice to see Adrian Lester turn up in this, although he’s criminally wasted in such a minor role. Lester is playing Simon Donahue, a family man who’s planning to race with his wife and children in order to give them a shot at freedom. However, in a twist somewhat reminiscent of Steven Seagal’s unexpected demise in Executive Decision, he doesn’t even make it to the end of the first episode, as he falls victim to one of the zombies. It’s an awful waste of an actor of Lester’s calibre, to be frank, and feels like they’ve cast him just to be able to add one more ‘name’ to the billing. Frankly, Lester deserves better than this, but then, so do the viewers.
In fact, it’s startling they’ve made such a big deal out of having big name stars in the lineup, only to keep some of them – like Miranda Richardson and Billy Zane – back for brief glimpses at the very end, where the racers have converged for the start. It’s understandable that there wasn’t enough time to feature all of them in the series opener, as there’s a lot of backstory to impart, and many characters featuring in the show. However, it feels like we’ve been given fleeting glimpses of them here for contractual reasons, in order to justify signing – and paying – them for all eight episodes, rather than their presence here actually adding anything of value to the episode. Hopefully, they’ll all add a bit of much-needed colour to proceedings, as it’s all rather drab and staid at present.
The main problem of this is that it feels like an uncomfortable hybrid – trying to ape or emulate Hollywood-style action, while using British production values and acting styles, which makes it feel rather clunky and wooden as a result; it’s neither one thing nor the other, and comes over as being stilted and awkward. We’ve seen Edgar Wright’s inimitable take on zombie apocalypses and high-octane action all set against the incongruity of a typical British backdrop in his movies, but they both still work in their own right, as well as being affectionate parodies. Here, there’s no nod or wink to the audience, no attempt to have an hint of campiness or tongue-in-cheek, and Curfew ends up being rather serious and self-important as a result.
With things about to get underway at the beginning of episode two, here’s hoping that things finally get out of neutral and into first gear. If nothing else, we can at least pray for some road race action to distract us from the utterly interminable dialogue and characterisation. Let’s just hope that the remainder of the series doesn’t end up being an unsalvageable insurance write-off. So far, it’s not been very fast, but I’m already furious.