Fall '98: "Brimstone"
Of course, you have to be into the darker side of life to get a kick out of a show so bleak it makes Millennium look like Laugh-In. The program revolves around a former cop, Ezekiel Stone, who was on his way to heaven until his wife got raped and Stone murdered the perp in revenge, shortly before being gunned down himself. He's back on this mortal coil fifteen years after becoming worm food for a specific reason: 113 of the worst sort of Hell's slime have escaped the Devil's clutches and are now roaming free on Earth.
Why Beelzebub chose Stone as his supernatural bounty hunter is not at all apparent. He has only been in Hell for 15 years and, as we quickly learn, the longer you stay in the ol' flamebar hotel the more powerful you are. Stone's got superhuman strength and is invulnerable to mere mortals, but compared to the demons he's tracking... well, it's like sending Barney Fife after Hannibal Lecter.
Nonetheless, Satan himself seems like a pretty hep cat. He is, of course, played as a suave, smooth-talking Englishman by John Glover, one of those actors you've seen a million places before but didn't have the slightest clue who he was.
Come to think of it, when has the human form of Satan not been played as a sophisticated Englishman? You think Devil, you think maybe Ralph Fiennes or Ian McKellan. Sean Connery would make a kick-ass Lord of the Hoary Netherworld. But guys like John Goodman or Jim Belushi? Never. Unless the Malebolgia had a fat, fun-lovin' sidekick.
Anyway, Glover does a decent job of being suave and smooth-talking even though he's only on the screen for a couple minutes in the premiere.
Surprisingly good in the lead role is Peter Horton, late of thirtysomething which was a particularly satanic show in its own whiny, pretentious, boring way. Horton has perfected the detached, sarcastic patter so natural to dead guys. When a living cop finds out about Stone's current state of non-life, he tells Stone, "That's unholy!" Without missing a beat, Ezekiel replies, "No, interleague play is unholy."
The writers, apparently convinced last season's Nothing Sacred was too soft on the Catholic church, dreamed up a premiere episode that featured a priest kidnapping and killing altar boys whom he believed were heavenly creatures trapped on Earth. If nothing else, it's a plotline you probably will never see on Felicity.
Matching its brooding storyline is a photographic style that is so over-exposed and bleached of color, it makes Ridley Scott films look like Teletubbies.
The special effects are also top notch, despite the fact they are unexpectedly scarce. To send the escapees back to Hell, Stone must destroy their eyes, "the windows to the soul." OK, yeah, it's very cliché, but the effect of the demon's soul escaping through his shot out eye sockets is one of the slickest tricks you'll see on TV this year.
Yes, you have to be predisposed to a kind of dark entertainment to get anything out of Brimstone. The HBO animated (don't even think of calling it a cartoon) series Spawn has been one of my favorite things on television that last couple of years, if for no other reason than it pushes so many limits and there's nothing even remotely like it on TV. Brimstone is nowhere near that kind of edgy risk-taking, but for a network show it's pretty far out there.
Brimstone may not be the second-coming of high-quality TV, but it's worth a look for now. And if anyone catches you watching, just tell them the devil made you do it.
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