Cars! Sean Bean! Billy Zane! Adrian Lester! Those are the key ingredients to Sky One’s new drama, Curfew, which sees a bunch of racers gather in London after dark for a dash to freedom – freedom from a dystopian society where people live, indeed, under a curfew. Cars! Sean Bean! Billy Zane! Adrian Lester! Dystopian satire! A satire in which society has collapsed, due to the spread of a deadly disease that turns people into flesh-eating monsters. Cars! Sean Bean! Billy Zane! Adrian Lester! Dystopian satire! Zombies! If you’re starting to think that Curfew might be doing too many things at once, you’re not wrong. This cut and shut job welds together at least five different ideas to come up with an idea that can claim to be unique – and the result is a hot welded mess that gives a bad name to hybrid vehicles.
Things start out like The Fast and the Furious, but it’s not long until that movie franchise crashes into 28 Days Later, with a detour via Death Race and High-Rise, and it’s that strange mix that leaves Curfew underwhelming to such a surprising, and disappointing, degree. The car sequences, which formed the majority of the TV show’s promotional material, are promisingly barmy, as we see a host of oddball characters compete to get across the River Thames, through the wall surrounding London and out to the top of the UK, where they can win a way out to a better, offshore land. But the chance of something amusingly bonkers is lost amid the huddle of faces and briefly skimmed-over back-stories.
Our drivers include Phoebe Fox as Kaye, a paramedic who once carried out secretive clinical trials, Malachi Kirby as Michael, an on-the-run former subject of said trials, Aimee-Ffion Edwards as Michael’s ruthless girlfriend, Ruby, and Ike Bennett as Roman, the smart son of Simon (Adrian Lester). And then there’s Sean Bean as a hot-headed criminal called The General, Billy Zane as a cowboy-hat-wearing danger addict, and Adam Brody as the billionaire behind the race.
It’s an impressive cast, but the show is so busy stuffing the screen with each new larger-than-life eccentric that none of it really has the chance to land emotionally – which is a problem when the cast have to play everything entirely straight-faced. Lester doesn’t get enough screen-time as a well-meaning dad who’s penned a notebook with plans for every possible scenario, while the always excellent Sean Bean is left with a character whose only real trait is that sometimes, he gets a bit angry.
There’s potential here for something akin to a live-action Wacky Races, but Curfew’s determination to crowbar in the undead too repeatedly bogs down the show’s attempts to accelerate forwards into silly territory – it’s only the second episode when the race begins, and momentum is soon halted by each new encounter with shuffling brain-eaters, or flashbacks to explore their origins. The presence of Brody in the background, meanwhile, only undermines the logic of the whole world: why would anyone sanction this race in a country where a lockdown is heavily enforced? And, more to the point, why would each of these drivers actually believe the race is the answer to their problems?
The result is certainly unpredictable, and almost admirably nonsensical, but the decision to ask us to take it all seriously leaves Curfew feeling like it’s stalled on the starting grid. There’s ambition and enthusiasm here, plus some solid world-building by the production design team, but this racing drama sorely needs a roadmap.
Curfew Season 1 is available on Sky One, with new episodes airing on Fridays at 9pm. Don’t have Sky? You can also stream it live and on-demand on NOW TV, for £7.99 a month, with no contract and a 7-day free trial.