Reviews

'Bedlam: Season 1' Takes Its Premise Right Out of a Classic Ghost Story

An insane asylum is being converted into modern, luxury apartments by the descendents of its original owners. Unfortunately, not all of the previous occupants have moved out yet.


Bedlam

Distributor: BBC Warner
Cast: Hugo Speer, Will Young, Theo James, Ashley Madekwe, Charlotte Salt
Network: BBC America
UK release date: 2011-04-18
US release date: 2011-11-08
Trailer
Amazon

The BBC series Bedlam begins with a scene right out of a classic scary story. A lone driver on a dark and rainy night pulls over to pick up a mysterious hooded figure, who says nothing upon entering the car. Rain is coming down in sheets, the headlights barely make a dent in the darkness ahead. The radio plays a monotonous pop song. The driver mentions that he's only going so far. The hitchhiker stares at him menacingly, and then looks pointedly at the dashboard display; lights, radio, clock. The driver offers to switch stations, and finds a news report.

Something, someone, dangerous is loose in the area and, though the details are unclear, warnings have been issued. Stay off that road. The now nervous driver prattles on about how he should phone his wife, how she'll be making shepherd's pie for supper, he's really got to get home. The radio announcer drones in the background as the hitchhiker lowers his hood, turns to the driver and says, "You are dead."

Trying to ignore what he has just heard, the driver pulls off the road, ostensibly to let his passenger out. This is as far as he's going, you see. He babbles a bit more about the shepherd's pie—he's understandably shaken and attempting to cling to a safe thought, he has to get home to his wife—but the hitchhiker repeats, "You. Are. DEAD."

It's here the twist occurs. The driver's head slips back, his eyes go black and he begins to scream. Because he is, in fact, dead. He and his wife perished in a car crash and his spirit has yet to move on, but once he's shown proof of his demise, he steps out of the car and disappears into the white light that awaits him. It's an exciting and enticing start to the story, for sure.

The mysterious hitchhiker is actually the main protagonist, Jed (Theo James, Downton Abbey), who has the ability to not only see ghosts, but to specifically see how they died. He has recently been released from an institution where he was being treated for this "affliction". He has also been receiving strange, unexplained text messages, and is on his way to "SAVE KATE" when we see the opening hitchhiking scene.

Kate Bettany (Charlotte Salt), is his spoiled, ice-queen cousin. She and her vaguely sinister father Warren Bettany (Hugo Speer) are converting the insane asylum that has been in the family for generations into blocks of luxury apartments, aptly named Bedlam Heights. Kate's wing of the building is finished, though groundbreaking and renovations are still going on elsewhere on the property when Jed arrives to stay with her, and her flatmates Ryan (Will Young), the computer consultant, and Molly (Ashley Madekwe), the idealistic freeloader.

There's loads of sexual tension between all of these 20-something characters, including Kate and Jed (that's explained away by the fact that Jed was adopted by Warren's sister-in-law), but all the "Will they or won't they?" gets old and overdone even before the end of the first episode. The interpersonal dynamics seem stale, so watching these four young, hot and often half-naked folks sharing a living space sadly lacks any of its presumably intended incendiary effect.

And despite the cracking ghost story of the opening sequence, the first few haunting occurrences at Bedlam Heights leave a lot to be desired, too. Creators Neil Jones, Chris Parker and David Allison are clearly aiming Bedlam at the audience that made shows like Being Human or The Vampire Diaries hits, but pretty actors and a supernatural premise aren't all it takes (Twilight aside). Part of the problem is that the core cast of characters just are not that interesting or likeable.

Jed's all right and he gets more intriguing as the season unfolds, Ryan is easy to connect to and he begins to serve as a partner to Jed and a humanizing, anchoring element outside of the spooky stuff that goes on in the show. However, Molly is boring even beyond her limited role, and it is a limited role—the one note expression of the anti-Kate—which is too bad because the show could use a bit of cheerful spark and Madekwe is more than capable of that when given a chance.

Kate is just really annoying above anything else. She's like a hollow caricature of the bitchy, self-involved, slightly evil, seductress. She's supposed to be the Daddy's girl with Daddy issues and Daddy's gold card, but no idea how to interact with others unless they are in servitude to her. However, instead of coming over as a villainess with an agenda, or even as a misunderstood woman whose pursuit of success is mistaken for evil intention, she comes across as a half-realized attempt at a bratty child in grown-ups' clothes.

Like Molly, Kate's character is flat and one-dimensional. Granted, as the series progresses, you're supposed to suspect, hate, possibly feel sympathy for, and then suspect Kate again, but it's hard to even hate her when you can't care enough to bother. It makes you wonder why the other characters care for her, as well, when clearly the writers didn't care enough about her to make her more than a sketch of a character. Not a good sign when she's apparently the impetus behind the big story arc ("SAVE KATE").

What is good about Bedlam: Season 1 is the portrayal of the ghostly goings-on. There isn't an flashy amount of CGI, the show relies instead on more practical effects, which are often genuinely scary. Because the grounds and the buildings were once home to a Victorian asylum, and in the 20th century to a modern mental hospital that was condemned for various crimes against its patients, most of the spectral specimens have unfinished business of a not so far-fetched nature.

For example, the ghost of a lower class woman who never stopped loving her her high-ranking paramour, even though he is the one who committed her to the asylum so that he could save face among his peers, haunts a handsome young man who sees a string of women because he couldn't deal with the death of the one he truly loved. A former patient who went mad with grief and blamed himself after his children were killed in a car by his estranged wife haunts a young woman who accidentally hit two kids while fleeing from her abusive relationship. It's all standard "once they atone, once they right a similar wrong, they can be at peace and move on to the next life" stuff, but it's done in a very engaging, and for the most part, an intelligent way.

Also good are the other tenants of Bedlam Heights, many of whom are the victims of very specific and personal hauntings. Most are well written, fully fleshed out characters that fill their one-time slots superbly. The disturbed young woman on her own for the first time after being released from hospital, and the little girl whose imaginary friend turns out to be more than imaginary. In fact, if the stories of Jed, Kate, Ryan and Molly as flatmates and possible romantic partners took more of a backseat to the tales of the other tenants' lives and the ghosts' deaths, Bedlam would, perhaps, be a better show.

The season's ending, in which we discover more mysterious clues about the dark history of the Bettany family and the asylum, as well as key insights into who Jed is and why he possesses his particular talents, offers hope that a second season will do just that. It's going to have to do something a little differently, otherwise it's likely to disappear all too quickly. Just like a ghost.

Bedlam: Season 1 contains six original episodes on two discs, with no bonus material or other features.

5

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less
Culture

Net Neutrality and the Music Ecosystem: Defending the Last Mile

Still from Whiplash (2014) (Photo by Daniel McFadden - © Courtesy of Sundance Institute) (IMDB)

"...when the history books get written about this era, they'll show that the music community recognized the potential impacts and were strong leaders." An interview with Kevin Erickson of Future of Music Coalition.

Last week, the musician Phil Elverum, a.k.a. Mount Eerie, celebrated the fact that his album A Crow Looked at Me had been ranked #3 on the New York Times' Best of 2017 list. You might expect that high praise from the prestigious newspaper would result in a significant spike in album sales. In a tweet, Elverum divulged that since making the list, he'd sold…six. Six copies.

Keep reading... Show less

Under the lens of cultural and historical context, as well as understanding the reflective nature of popular culture, it's hard not to read this film as a cautionary tale about the limitations of isolationism.

I recently spoke to a class full of students about Plato's "Allegory of the Cave". Actually, I mentioned Plato's "Allegory of the Cave" by prefacing that I understood the likelihood that no one had read it. Fortunately, two students had, which brought mild temporary relief. In an effort to close the gap of understanding (perhaps more a canyon or uncanny valley) I made the popular quick comparison between Plato's often cited work and the Wachowski siblings' cinema spectacle, The Matrix. What I didn't anticipate in that moment was complete and utter dissociation observable in collective wide-eyed stares. Example by comparison lost. Not a single student in a class of undergraduates had partaken of The Matrix in all its Dystopic future shock and CGI kung fu technobabble philosophy. My muted response in that moment: Whoa!

Keep reading... Show less
Books

'The Art of Confession' Ties Together Threads of Performance

Allen Ginsberg and Robert Lowell at St. Mark's Church in New York City, 23 February 1977

Scholar Christopher Grobe crafts a series of individually satisfying case studies, then shows the strong threads between confessional poetry, performance art, and reality television, with stops along the way.

Tracing a thread from Robert Lowell to reality TV seems like an ominous task, and it is one that Christopher Grobe tackles by laying out several intertwining threads. The history of an idea, like confession, is only linear when we want to create a sensible structure, the "one damn thing after the next" that is the standing critique of creating historical accounts. The organization Grobe employs helps sensemaking.

Keep reading... Show less
9
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image