Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Repost/Update: Jekyll Review

Jekyll is a BBC drama series about a modern day Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The story opens in the middle, as the protagonist, Dr. Jackman is dealing with his uncontrollable transformations. There's nothing in this series that knowing the original story can spoil for you. You meet Mr. Hyde in the very first episode. You are told about the original story very early on. Before we get to the spoilers, I want to recommend that you consider buying or renting the series. What follows will certainly ruin a few surprises.

Warning: Spoilers Ahead
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What you don't expect is the radically unique way they handle the transformation. There are no prosthetics. No computer graphics. The makeup changes just slightly. The magic is all in the writing and the performance. Dr Jackman is a mousy, but at times surprisingly strong scientist. Mr. Hyde is a psychotic, but at times surprisingly protective... something else. James Nesbitt delivers what would, in my opinion, be an Academy Award worthy performance as both. Hyde has some wonderful lines, which I didn't expect. He has a habit of referring to his alter ego as "Daddy" in an almost lurid way that sends a chill up the spine.

The meat of the season deals with two groups: Jackman's family and a mysterious group that Jackman slowly discovers has been manipulating him for years. His family consists of a wife and two sons. For some time now, Jackman has been leading a double-life, even without the transformations. He's been attempting to keep his transformations a secret from his family, but more importantly, he's trying to keep his family a secret from Hyde. He removes his wedding ring and any identification that would lead Hyde back to his country home. He's also hired a young assistant to keep his and Hyde's secrets for them while reporting whatever each of them want to share.

Absolutely none of these characters are who you expect them to be at first. His wife is not quite a "plant", but she has ties that go back as far as the original Dr Jekyll about whom the non-quite-fictional story was written. The frightened private investigator that Jackman hired to discover where Hyde was going isn't quite so terrified as she seemed, and she and her lovely office assistant / lover become important characters, working with Jackman's wife and assistant to save Jackman from the shadowy organization that has been behind so much of his life to date.

By the sixth and last episode of this very short season, nothing is as it was at first. Jackman and Hyde are revealed to be not quite so different from each other after all, and the two of them work together, each making sacrifices to save what is most important to both of them. Hyde isn't quite a child, but he's not quite a man, either. This gives the writers the chance to ask questions about the nature of their protagonist that wouldn't make any sense coming from a more fully developed character. For example, at one point he says, "I walk through this funny little world of yours, and I'm so strong that I don't even notice it," but soon after he's forced to back down in order to protect those that matter to him, and he practically cries, "why am I not a superman?" It's not clear if Hyde is asking about the cartoon character or Nietzsche's Übermensch, but either works well. Ultimately Hyde is the antithesis of the Übermensch, as it is his merely human qualities that bind him to what he and Jackman care most about.

I've heard no word about this show's fate, (update 2009: it's toast, but one season is still a treasure) but I'm hopeful that they'll have the chance to try this out for a second, and longer season. It certainly has the potential to turn into the 1980s The Incredible Hulk, but it also has the potential to be much more. The dialog and story development were original and unpredictable in the first season. If this team, and primarily executive producer and BBC writer extraordinaire Steven Moffat can pull off a second season like that, they may have quite the hit on their hands.

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