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The Dresden Files review

Wizard for hire is low on enchantment

Sky One • Wednesdays • 9pm

Developed for television by: Robert Hewitt Wolfe, Hans Beimler

Starring: Paul Blackthorne, Valerie Cruz, Terrence Mann

Rating:

Watching The Dresden Files you come to one of two conclusions about American TV execs: they either watch too much television or none at all. A show that’s such an unashamed mishmash of every supernatural show that’s ever gone before it can only be the result of wanton plagiarism or blissful ignorance. Did the original pitch go, “Let’s do Supernatural with liberal doses of The X-Files, Angel and Medium mixed in”? Or, “We’ve found this book about a wizard detective who helps the police department solve supernatural cases with werewolves and whatnots. That’s never been done before.”

Okay, so The Dresden Files is as derivative as Tucker Jenkins’s homework. Does that matter? The modern TV production line churns out identikit police and hospital dramas, so what’s wrong with yet another Kolchak knock-off? The show will succeed or fail not on what it regurgitates from other shows, but on the strength of its characters, the sharpness of its scripts, and its overall look and feel.

The trouble is, the overall look and feel is… Charmed. Perceived wisdom is that otherwordly investigation works best in dark, gloomy surroundings; The Dresden Files has the brightly-lit lightness of touch and broadly-drawn characters that were the fluffy witch show’s stock-in-trade. Paul Blackthorne is affable enough as the laid-back Dresden, but could easily have been one of Paige’s long list of hapless boyfriends, while his ghostly pal Bob is just like one of those pompous whitelighters who regularly dropped in on the Halliwells.

The pilot seems to promise more quirkiness than we get in subsequent episodes, while also failing disastrously in one important aspect of a pilot: it doesn’t tell you what the hell’s going on. A “council” is mentioned, but never really explained. Ghostly Bob seems to be constrained in Dresden’s apartment (although actually he isn’t, as we learn two episodes later). There are flashbacks to Dresden’s childhood with his failed conjuror dad (which are actually quite amusing, and it’s a shame they didn’t become a regular part of the show’s format) but there is little information about his family’s wizard heritage or what exactly his powers are. Providing tantalising mysteries for the viewer is one thing; not setting up your ground rules is just plain lazy. On a pure plot level, though, it twists and turns pleasingly enough.

Any distinctive flavour or energy the pilot may have had, though, seeps away rapidly in subsequent episodes. The plotlines still strain to keep you guessing, but the scripts become so humdrum that you can’t really be bothered to be surprised by the twists. Interesting ideas from the pilot are abandoned as the show eventually evolves to become standard monster-of-the-week schlock. Blackthorne is a charismatic enough lead, trying to inject a little new age eccentricity into dialogue that gives him little to work with. The show’s going to have to work hard to break the biggest curse of all – early cancellation.

Dave Golder

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