Apocalyptic issues surrounding life, death and the great in-between meet raging teenage hormones in “The Fades,” the latest British import from Jack Thorne, whose “Skins” and “Shameless” both spawned U.S. versions. Despite the writer’s obvious affinity for the material, that alone isn’t enough to distinguish this murky supernatural comedy-drama, where another adolescent wallowing in angst discovers his own Very Big destiny. The serialized concept ought to have cultish admirers as part of BBC America’s “Supernatural Saturday,” but after sampling three hours, letting the show fade from the DVR shouldn’t haunt many.
At 17, Paul (Iain De Caestecker) doesn’t know what to make of his eerie dreams, other than they trigger embarrassing bouts of bed-wetting. A nerdy outcast, he spends most of his time hanging out with Mac (Daniel Kaluuya), who seems to have a “Star Wars” quote for any occasion.
Paul’s coming-of-age story is the most significant of several parallel plots, which include the murder of a young woman (“The Tudors'” Natalie Dormer) and the suspicion cast on her estranged spouse (Tom Ellis), amid a growing number of missing-persons cases.
For all the ominous signs and creepy music, the series is miserly about disgorging its secrets. It isn’t until Paul meets Neil (Johnny Harris) that some gaps start to get puttied in — about spirits caught between this world and the next, known as Fades, walking among us and angry about their purgatory-like status. “These are those that stay here,” Neil says, calling death “random, same as life is.”
Policing these specters, in essence, is a group known as Angelics, but something radical is happening, which threatens to upset the order of things and — potentially — bring about the end of the world.
Paul obviously plays a major role in all of this, but he has other matters on his mind, including his courtship of Jay (Sophie Wu). Unfortunately, Paul’s desire to get laid — egged on by Mac — is complicated by the beyond-puberty changes he’s experiencing, including an awkward (and hilarious) side effect when he masturbates.
Thorne certainly pushes the envelope — as he did in “Skins” — in exploring teen life, and the show’s contemplation of life and death produces some interesting dialogue and striking imagery.
Still, after three installments, “The Fades’?” existential components remain somewhat muddled, with the portentous warnings offering small compensation or incentive to hang around long enough to see whether mankind survives. While there are worthwhile elements, Thorne doesn’t appear to have much new to say about these grand questions, other than to create some new terminology: Fades or ghosts, Angelics or ghostbusters.
“I didn’t ask for any of this,” Paul laments. And he’s right — in much the same way nobody really asked for another drama as murky as this one.