A former mental asylum is transformed into luxury apartments for pretty young Brits stupid enough to ignore the obvious warning signs of haunting in U.K. import “Bedlam.” A sort of “Melrose Place” meets “Ghost Whisperer” by way of “Being Human,” this derivative drama is only mildly spooky and not nearly soapy enough to lure any but the most devoted genre fans and Anglophiles to a six-week run on BBC America.
The biggest name in the cast, at least across the pond, is inaugural “Pop Idol”-turned-so-so actor Will Young, playing one of three roommates blissfully unaware they’re sharing their aptly named abode, Bedlam Heights, with spirits. But the true star and standout performer is Theo James as a young drifter with the looks of a male model and the “Sixth Sense”-ish ability to see dead people. He’s drawn to Bedlam Heights by a rash of mysterious texts warning that his cousin (Charlotte Salt as the bitchy building manager) is in danger.
A gaggle of ghostly shenanigans follow, mostly cribbed from Japanese horror and their Hollywood remakes (“The Ring,” “The Grudge,” “Dark Water”). Phantoms pop up in mirrors, walls drip with green water, ominous music floods the soundtrack and the editors go into overdrive. Too bad we’ve seen it all before, with more inspired execution and interesting characters.
Creators David Allison, Neil Jones and Chris Parker come from the world of British nighttime soaps, all working at one time or another on youthful sudser “Hollyoaks,” and a superficial emphasis on pretty faces and banal personal dramas carries over here. But with its small core cast and ghost-of-the-week structure, “Bedlam” shows little potential for the juicer twists and turns that give the best soaps their addictive appeal.
At least the frequently shirtless James — who had a brief but memorable turn as a Turkish diplomat in season one of “Downton Abbey” — fits the bill as a pretty-boy lead, and benefits from portraying the only character with a compelling hook. His supernatural gift allows him to help ghosts solve their troubles and move on to the next realm.
In the opening hour, James’ peers, including Ashley Madekwe, now a series regular on ABC’s “Revenge,” are nothing more than cardboard cutouts with occasional sexual urges. The only member of the cast over 40, Hugo Speer (“The Full Monty”), spends his time lurking in the shadows as the building owner who probably knows more about the eerie events than he lets on.
The six-episode first season of “Bedlam” drew marginal ratings in its run on U.K.’s Sky Living earlier this year. There’s no word yet on when or if a second season will be produced.