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Wednesday, 29 September 2010

The Net

Right then, qualifications out of the way first, because it's only right. I've not seen the movie 'The Net'. I know it stars Sandra Bullock and I pretty much had the idea that it's to do with identity theft and people being able to control you based on your computer usage but that's about it.

I have however seen a few bits of the TV version. Many years ago, when it first aired in this country I checked out a few episodes and wasn't impressed but it kind of got away from me and I'll be honest, it completely slipped my mind that the show existed until I saw the complete series on a DVD boxset in a discount DVD shop I frequent. 22 episodes for £6.99 is not to be sniffed at and of course, now that I had been reminded of it's existence I had to watch it, so into the basket it went. That was a while ago now though, because I've allowed the fact that my vague memories are not positive ones to put me off watching it.

Within minutes of switching on the pilot I was mocking it. From the ridiculously excited woman who was practically ready to sacrifice her first born to satnav, so awed was she by it's Godlike abilities, to the really clunky scene that sets up the fact that the lead never has contact with anyone and the delivery boy thinks her assistant is her (ooh, might that mean something later?) and culminating in the shadowy villains, shot so we never see their faces (there is a lingering shot of the female villains shapely legs as she climbs some stairs to meet with her boss that suggests the Director may have been extracting the urine with his brief), the whole thing just begged to be ridiculed.

I turned it off.

I wanted to come at it straight and I was allowing my preconceptions to shape my attitude.So I went off and watched some other rubbish and came back to The Net the next day. At which point I really got into it. The show is essentially a Fugitive for the internet age, albeit an internet age in its infancy. Brooke Langton stars as Angela Bennet, computer software genius who runs a freelance troubleshooting business over the web, being a bit of a recluse and refusing to meet her clients in person. She receives a piece of prototype tech, which a client wants her to debug, because it is very susceptible to viruses etc. She plugs it into her system and it latches onto and patches her into the private communications of a mysterious online presence known as Sorcerer, who promptly tells her to get lost. This fleeting contact puts her on the radar of a group of cyberterrorists calling themselves The Praetorians, after the Roman faction. They frame her as Liz Marx, a wanted terrorist, and she goes on the run, aided by the mysterious Sorcerer character, although her communication with him is limited to online chatrooms.

The pilot throws in some interesting kinks which may have been in the movie or may have been added here in an attempt to give the show a spine to build on longterm. Angelas father, who left when she was a child, is revealed to have been part of a radical thinktank in the 80's, which was run by the Praetorians and which is now being killed off by them. So on top of being on the run for crimes she didn't commit, and vowing to bring the rightful culprits down (so far so Fugitive) , there is also the idea that she is attempting to track down and help her Father. The intimation though, and it really isn't subtle, is that her Father may actually still be in league with the bad guys.

The bad guys are led by a man called Trelawney, who seems incapable of grasping that if he is in pursuit of a woman who claims to be being persecuted by a man called Trelawney, it would probably be easier to keep people thinking she was crazy/paranoid/delusional, if he didn't go around introducing himself as Trelawney.Thats gonna set the old alarm bells ringing isn't it?

Anyway, he's a bit sinister and dark and creepy, but has a seeming desire to see our heroine captured and brought to heel without her coming to any harm. Hmmm. He is assisted by an even more sinister and dark, but considerably dumber, henchman who just likes to kill people and an attractive female sidekick who may or may not be in love with him. She also has nice legs, which is not just me being shallow (this time), you can't avoid them. Seriously, I think it was in her contract that she had submit to lingering close ups of her legs at every possible opportunity.

Once Angela is on the run the show, sadly, falls into a bit of a cliche rut. She is arrested in the teaser of episode 2, for example. They couldn't have waited a couple of weeks to tease her recapture? The same episode is based in large part on her having the chance to reunite with her father. A chance she passes up to help out the troubled soul of the week. Yes, by episode 2.

Episode 3 is little better, with her foiling a Praetorian plot, helping a young homeless girl make something of her life and teasing a potential love interest that we will undoubtedly never see again, before having a big showdown with Trelawney, which she manages to walk away from far too easily.

I reckon this show would have done well to adopt the model used by The Pretender, and have separate storylines for Angela and the Praetorians, with occasional episodes were they meet. It would certainly help to keep the show fresh because the idea of them facing off, the villains getting egg on their faces and Angela running off into the sunset every week will get old quick. I've only seen the opening episodes so who knows, maybe they did go down this route and I've got something to look forward to.

The saving grace of the whole thing is Langton.

She throws off the 'soap star' stigma and crafts, in Angela, someone who feels like a living, breathing, real person. And a sympathetic one at that. In the pilot, when she is first arrested she doesn't play it brave, or bolshie; She plays it terrified and confused. When she is hurt in episode 3 she doesn't play the tough 'I aint got time to bleed' action hero; you see a young woman in shock and pain and desperation. Of course the scripts will only allow her to go so far in that direction, and to overplay it would make her seem weak but Langton pitches it perfectly. She impressed me.

Final point : what the hell is going on with the DVD release. I realised pretty quickly that something was up when the fourth episode started and some major changes seemed to have happened without explanation so I switched off and did a little checking. Turns out it has the episodes in completely the wrong order. 1,2,3,18,5,4, then 6 onwards. Last time I had to work this hard with a DVD was American Gothic, and at least they had the excuse that the episodes had aired in the wrong order originally, which doesn't seem to have been the case here. So what was the thinking with this decision? As I say, I switched off fairly quickly but even so, I now know of a pretty major cast change thats going to occur at some point. Disappointing.

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