Well this show is turning out to be a LOVELY surprise. And honestly Saturday morning I had no idea it even existed. Then during the afternoon, this tweet chanced across my timeline:
If series showrunner Joe Cornish’s name sounds familiar, he did the movie Attack the Block about ten years ago. And I guess he was the lead screenwriter for Ant-Man?
And the source material are a series of Young Adult-aimed books by a writer named Joe Stroud who has quite the following in the YA genre.
Anyway, I figured I’d try one episode and then blow this off if it didn’t connect. But wow. Loved it! And now I’ve binged the first three episodes, and I’m hooked.
The premise is pretty terrific: it’s set in London in an alternate timeline world, where ghosts have been real for 50 years now. Really real. In fact, the era of ghosts showing up everywhere (a newspaper headline in the opening credits pegs the death toll from murderous ghosts as more than a million) is called (with typical British understatement) “The Problem”.
And ghosts in this world? They kill on touch. They can also cause something called “Ghost Lock”, in which the victim survives, but is sort of “locked” into a glassy eyed mental prison not too different from the “sleeping sickness” of the 1920s and 30s.
Oh, and here’s the kicker: adults can’t really detect or hear or see ghosts until it’s too late. Only kids and teenagers can see them and detect them, and even then, only some of them. And so “Agencies” hire teens and train them up in various specialties required for ghost hunting, and these teen agents seem to be fighting a losing war against constantly increasing spectral presences in London. We see lots of nameplates on memorial edifices in town squares for teen agents killed by ghosts in the line of duty.
The hero of the series is Lucy Carlyle. She’s a “listener” in the parlance of Agency folk: she can hear ghosts in a haunted place well before they materialize. And she’s estranged from her family – and the agency that originally trained her, and goes to work for a rag-tag would-be agency run by two other teenagers: Lockwood and Company.
Yeah, I know. This is the kind of premise that could descend into utter silliness. But it doesn’t here. Everyone – the cast, the director, the writers – they’re all bought in, and that makes this work. The dialogue is witty and often hilariously dark.
And there’s just a sheen of pure coolness on all of this. The main weapon of an Agent? An iron rapier. Because that’s just cool. And also chains, because why not? And the whole setting has this vague whiff of the Fallen London of Failbetter Games, or a game like Cultist Simulator. And the soundtrack is terrific, and perfectly attuned to the show: “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” in the first episode, plenty of Cure songs, some This Mortal Coil…
And the cast is really good. Ruby Stokes has the lead role of Lucy, and she’s a revelation. She’d only been given bit parts in the first two seasons of Bridgerton (which she left, forcing a recast for season 3), but here she’s the center of the show, and she’s got the chops and screen presence to carry things.
Netflix seems to have done fuck-all to promote this, and that’s a shame. Joe Cornish apparently has asked for 3 seasons to tell the story he wants to tell by adapting the books, and I hope he gets it, this show deserves it and I think a lot of folks here would love it.
Here’s a four-star review that ran in The Guardian last week: