Well, I’ll say one thing for the team behind Curfew: they certainly know how to make a crisis out of a drama.
After last week’s incredibly sluggish open, not only does the big race struggle to get off the starting blocks, but it actually feels like it goes into reverse. Given that we left the ‘action’ at the end of the first episode with the racers about to get underway, we actually begin with a pair of time jumps – one some ten days back in time, and the other about ten minutes.
As a result of the first, we at least get to see a bit more of Adrian Lester, after his character’s untimely demise at the hands (and mouth) of a zombie last week. After taking all the trouble to cast him, it had seemed a little odd that he was out of the series so quickly, so by using flashbacks, it looks as though we’ll get to see some more of him peppered throughout the rest of the run. Unfortunately, as around one-third of the screen time thus far has been devoted to jumping back in time, it could quite quickly become an annoying means of establishing characters’ backstories, as well as providing lots of exposition, while hobbling any momentum in the process.
Oh, and there’s so much exposition. You can’t help but get the feeling that they’re trying to cram too much into these eight episodes, as they keep having to keep on taking pit stops every few minutes to go back and explain something. Given that the show’s focus is on the race, they seem to be doing everything in their power not to show it to you. Perhaps it would have been better if they’d done all this world building and scene setting in a far more linear fashion, getting it out of the way in the first couple of instalments, so we can get to some uninterrupted, unexpurgated high octane action for the remainder.
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The sudden drop back to the pre-race set-up, with all the drivers getting prepared for the start, does seem like a little bit of a cheat, as it does very little to add anything of real substance to proceedings. It seems as though the makers are firmly intent on delayed gratification – it just remains to be seen, however, as to whether they end up delaying it so far that they don’t actually manage to get any actual gratification in by the end of the eighth week. So far, all the signs are pointing towards that, as it appears to becoming a test of endurance for the audience more than the characters who are taking part.
The additional material they’ve clumsily shoehorned in at the beginning before the race commences does give us a focus on a previously unseen character – Roadkill Jim, played by Michael Biehn. The name alone tells you everything about the level on which the show is operating, as it sees itself as being a Mad Max-type dystopian car chase action piece (with some of the cars – and the drivers – styled in a vaguely reminiscent or evocative manner), but it’s also a dystopia where people live on nice suburban housing estates and drive Smart cars, so by trying to have it both ways, the show is stylistically all over the place, and a bit of a basket case creatively.
The attention on Biehn’s Roadkill Jim so early on is rather baffling, given that the character is given a painful, sprawling monologue about his beloved boyhood dog, Bob, which appears to be there just to give Biehn some screen time, and justify casting another Hollywood luminary. You can forgive Biehn’s rather off-kilter turn, given that seconds earlier we’ve just seen Jim toot a load of Charlie up his nose, so his almost drunken performance must be the closest way they could get to showing the audience that Jim’s high as a kite.
It’s at this point, however, proceedings hit both a literal and metaphorical roadblock – having been given a good two or maybe three minutes of actual racing, Jim ends up going from leading the pack to being the first casualty, as the security services have set up an ambush on Tower Bridge to pick off the competitors one by one. You could almost say that he goes from Michael Biehn to has-Biehn, as Jim gets shot through the chest by a sniper, and ends up being immolated in yet another awful bit of CGI, as he dies in a fiery ball of pixels. The longing, wistful look that he gives to a picture of his late dog, Bob, just moments before the crash is one of the most unintentionally funny things to be shown on TV this year. Harry Hill’s TV Burp would be all over comedy gold like that.
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In that vein, maybe they got rid of him because it would get too confusing with having two similar surnames appearing in the series? Sean Bean. Michael Biehn. You’ve got to have a system, as Harry Hill would say.
And just like that, everything just grinds to a sudden halt, almost before it’s gotten properly started. Imagine if Cannonball Run had involved about five minutes of actual racing action, and the rest of the time people sitting around strategising while eating packed lunches and being quite banal. Got that in your head? Good. Then it’s pretty much what this episode feels like. Early on, we find out that the competitors have to make their way to the finish line all the way up in the far north of Scotland; by the end of the second part, the racers have only just managed to clear Wandsworth Bridge. FFS. With that rate of progress, this is going to be a very long eight weeks.
But never mind, at least all of this tedious sitting around means that we at least get the added ‘bonus’ of – yes, you guessed it – more flashbacks. We learn the reason for Adrian Lester’s family unit – the Donahues – entering the race is because son Roman (Ike Bennett) and his friend Linus (Alfie Field) have hacked into some classified files about Brooke Heath, the institution where paramedic Kaye Newman (Phoebe Fox) and mother Helen (Harriet Walter) worked a few years ago, and appears to be the cause of the virus which resulted in the zombie mutations and the overnight curfew. The makers show us there’s a big, bad Government ruling this near-future UK by ‘disappearing’ Linus without trace, but given the lack of investment in the characters so far, I’m almost tempted to root for the villains of the piece.
Thankfully, Kaye gets pushed very much into the background compared to her role in the series opener, which can only be a blessing, given her penchant for speaking all her lines rather than delivering them. Mind you, credit where credit’s due: she does get dangerously close to doing an emotion this week. It’s hard to tell if her performance is down to a stylistic choice on her part, the direction she’s receiving on how she should play the role, or just thinly-veiled contempt for being in such trash. Looking at her filmography, Fox seems like a reasonably accomplished actress, having been in Black Mirror and a Poliakoff mini-series, so it appears that she’s capable of delivering much better than what we’re getting from her here.
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It doesn’t help that most of the characters we’ve seen so far haven’t so much been carefully sketched out as drawn with a crayon, leaving the actors little to latch onto; two episodes in, and we still haven’t so much as heard a peep out of Miranda Richardson, and Billy Zane is only defined by the cowboy hat he wears, as well as the company that he keeps, and his thirst for Martinis. And that’s it. Now the challenge of doing an ensemble piece will always be giving everyone a fair slice of the pie, but so far some of the characters don’t even appear to be seated at the same table as the rest, let alone waiting patiently to get their just desserts.
At least there’s Sean Bean, Sean Bean-ing it up – even if he does appear to be on auto-pilot throughout, he’s still one of the best things in the show. If the makers of Curfew have even a faint scintilla of self-awareness, they’ll make sure Sean Bean’s Errol ‘The General’ Chambers makes it all the way to the finishing line, to confound the audience’s expectations. However, the big question is whether there will still be any audience left to see it.
So, the score has incrementally risen for Curfew this week, only because we’ve had a trace element of the fast, furious racing action that we’ve been promised. It’s so heavily diluted, however, Curfew could almost be considered as being the first homeopathic television programme.