UK TV review: Likely Stories
Jo Bromilow | On 26, May 2016
Likely Stories, an anthology of four Neil Gaiman short stories. We dive into the author’s fantasy world…
Bedtime stories and fairytales grow up, just like their subjects. And grown-up ones are often best written by Neil Gaiman – a master storyteller and gifted observer. Against a smutty, sooty backdrop of modern city living, Gaiman gives us some brand new urban myths to chew over in Sky Arts’ Likely Stories, surreally soundtracked by Jarvis Cocker and starring some bright young acting talent.
Dickens gave us dirty streets, but Gaiman adds a layer of sex, diner grease and newsprint grime that makes it both impressively timeless and perfectly modern. Channel 4’s finest dystopias owe a considerable debt to Gaiman; he adds a layer of the mundane over the most Gothic of stories to make their final reveal sneak right up on you and blindside you (or, if you’re in the Neverwhere universe, steal your coat). His portrait of the world and the people that move within it is uncomfortable, deeply relatable and brutally clever.
Part 1 of Likely Stories takes the life of the mundane office worker Simon Powers and the destructive effects of what presents itself as an STI on his psyche and sense of self, along with the impact it has on his perplexed, weary, middle-aged doctor. Fans of It Follows lean in now, but here the STI as metaphor gives way to something deeper.
George Mackay puts in a suitably transformative performance – Ron Weasley gawk and fear giving way to a self-assured swagger in the paradoxically optimistic final act. Does Simon’s disease do more harm that good? In a city all about evolution, what will happen when the people, one by one, start changing with it?
Park 2 tells a similarly strange tale, but under the fluorescent lights of an all-night diner, in lieu of firelight, with childhood friends Joyce and Eddie (Tom Hughes) and swapping memories of their youth and Eddie’s odd summer lodging in a remote country house and his attachment to sweet old lady Miss Courvier, who casually asks him one night to bring her some raw meat for dinner.
The idea of a mysterious woman charming an innocent young subject is less than new, but putting it through the complex lens of an unreliable secondary narrator – relaying his tale to a perplexed, fourth wall-breaking primary narrator – helps add a dimension to the natural mistrust. Can anyone believe that tall a tale?
Enchantingly creepy yet disarmingly innocent, these first two unlikely tales sate the appetite of anyone longing for Neverwhere 2. For further reading, pick up Gaiman’s Smoke & Mirrors, a collection of stunning, arresting shorts.
Likely Stories is on Sky On Demand. Don’t have Sky? You can stream it online legally through NOW, which costs £8.99 a month, no contract.
Photo: © Deliverable from SidGentle productions