TV EYE: Charlie Jade – Episode 1

In a change from the non-stop US TV, this is the first episode of an oddball Canada/South Africa co-production that’s been floating around since being made two years ago (I don’t think it’s actually aired on US TV as yet). This episode came free on a DVD with this month’s SFX, and while it’s very rough around the edges, it’s also one of the few new shows I’ve seen in the last few weeks that’s actually made me want to see more…

CHARLIE JADE

Anyone of a certain age is likely to remember all the low-budget rip-offs of Alien, Blade Runner and The Terminator that clogged up video rental shelves in the mid-Eighties, and many aspects of Charlie Jade bring those memories flooding back. We’re firmly in cyberpunk territory, with a hardboiled private detective hero who gets his own voice-over, and a world that seems to exist in a permanent haze of smoke and industrial sparks. Many of the early scenes actually play more like videogame cut-scenes than I suspect was the intention (being particularly reminiscent of the cheesy noir interludes in shoot-em-up saga Max Payne), but the basic set-up is that our hero Charlie (Jeffrey Pierce- hard-edged without being tremendously interesting) is eking out a living in this semi-industrial world and getting occasional bizarre visions of another reality intruding on his own. Turns out, this is more relevant than he’d expect- a major corporation is tunneling through the walls of reality into two seperate universes, and is out to exploit the water resources of one of those alternate Earths. Most of episode 1 is taken up with scene-setting, although it does build up to an impressive ‘what the hell just happenned?’ finale, but one of the best things about Charlie Jade is the atmosphere and the vibe it generates. Shot on location in South Africa, it looks utterly different to any US sci-fi series, and while some of the Ridley Scott devices in the design and lighting get a little OTT (particularly the amount of people in the background of scenes who seem to be spot-welding) and some of the camerawork is a little too jittery, there’s a feeling of genuine ambition here, and trying to do something different. The support performances (mainly made up of local South African talent) vary from impressive to wooden, but it seems to be making a good use of its digital effects, using CGI in a careful, stylised way that summons up what feels like a genuine world, and giving the show some moments that qualify as breathtaking. Despite being very different, the show I’m most reminded of is late-night Channel 5 weird-a-thon Lexx, which was massively uneven and frequently bad, and yet also pulled off some tremendous ideas and images, creating a genuinely original and gory world (any low-budget show that does a season-ending that features the destruction of the entire Universe gets my vote…). Charlie Jade looks unlikely to be a classic- but in a world where genre TV can often be deeply generic, it’s good to celebrate when something interestingly different. And, let’s face it- it’d have to try damn hard to be worse than Flash Gordon…

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