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Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Class Series 1

Series 1.

My response to Class' announcement was one of lukewarm interest, it's probably fair to say. I saw the trailers, it looked interesting, I could see which characters I'd probably like, but I wasn't counting down the days until it started. When it did start, I actually didn't begin watching until five episodes into the eight episode series, because I just didn't have the time or inclination to do so.

Now that it's finished, I think I can honestly say that my reaction to it hasn't changed. It's still lukewarm interest, because while I certainly enjoyed the show well enough, I didn't enjoy it to the extent that I find myself eagerly awaiting the second series.

Set in Coal Hill School, an old standby of Doctor Who, Class focuses on five students -- alien prince Charlie, his boyfriend Matteusz, child prodigy Tanya, social outsider April, and popular football player Ram -- and one teacher, Ms. Quill, the last of a warlike species, who has been enslaved and forced to protect Charlie. Coal Hill School is the site of innumerable fissures in space and time, through which come a range of alien creatures -- most dangerous among them being the Shadow Kin, whose king April is permanently linked with by virtue of sharing a heart. As the six fend off alien attacks, the mysterious Governors set their own plans in motion.

Charlie has such a weirdly shaped head. Very concerning.

Let's kick off with my biggest problem with this series: There is a vein of odd hipsterism that often seems to overtake the entire story. That might seem like an odd thing to say, but it's the best way I can think to put it. The very first episode has April, in the middle of an invasion by murderous shadows, stopping to yell a borderline incoherent rant about how everyone loves Instagram -- and the show's intent in making her do so comes across as an attempt to softly reassure everyone watching that they're different and better than everyone around them.

That trend continues for the rest of the series, and becomes overpowering that, in a lot of cases, it's all there is to the characters and their interactions. Once you strip away the veneer of 'she's different from everyone around her, just like you, audience member,' April doesn't actually have a personality or a character. Every aspect of her character seems aimed to fulfill a singular purpose: To provide someone that audience members can project themselves onto, who will remain as much of a blank slate as possible while also pushing the idea that they're different, and special, and better than everyone around them.

Nor is it just April that gets hit by this. Ram and Tanya have the same vein running through them, and while they both have a little bit more personality once you take that away -- Ram is angry and on-edge, Tanya is smart and bitter at the world around her -- they're not exactly going to be winning any awards for well-written characters.

Ram, in an oddly shower scene heavy episode. There were, like, four.

It seems very often that Charlie, Matteusz, and Ms. Quill are the only members of the main cast with actual character arcs and personalities, and even then I think you could make a pretty strong argument that Matteusz only exists to be a stepping stone in Charlie's character arc. Ms. Quill easily steals every scene that she's in, and her one big focus episode is by far the most interesting of the bunch, with the exploration of her psychology and morality being legitimately engaging.

Its supporting characters tend to fare a little better, with successive headteachers Francis Armitage and Dorothea Ames managing to brighten up just about any scene they're in.

If the show is saved by anything, then, it's its plotlines, which are consistently good at creating a sense of menace and danger. There is a genuine sense of insurmountable odds with every monster of the week, and the stories often work better as self-contained stories than Doctor Who's do. Highlights include an episode set entirely within a single classroom, where the five students engage in a battle of wills with an imprisoned alien murderers; and an episode where a massive plant creates lures based on people's dead loved ones, to try to lure them into joining it.

The overarching plot of the Shadow Kin and Charlie's Cabinet of Souls -- the afterlife of his destroyed people, which also serves as a weapon -- also manages to actually be pretty interesting. It's only really woven into about four episodes of the eight episode series, but that's more than enough, and it feels like it even comes to an almost satisfactory conclusion.

Dorothea, who serves as a sort of sub-antagonist for the series as a whole.

The one big problem with the storylines of these episodes is that they're burning through all their material pretty rapidly. April and Tanya both have personal arcs (albeit not much of one in April's case) that are dealt with in their entirety in the first series, and the final episode of the series goes so far as to kill off both Tanya and Ram's parents, thus dramatically reducing supporting cast members who could provide interesting conflicts for them.

The result is that the storyline feels very cut-and-burn, as if the writers don't really expect this to be a sustainable series and thus aren't writing it as if it is. 

No word yet on if the show has been renewed for a second series, but it's been critically well-received and hasn't had terrible ratings, so I imagine it might well be. The final scene seems to set up the Weeping Angels as the villains of the second series, which -- ugh, honestly, I'm so sick of the Angels.

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