IDYLLIC villages in the UK always have secrets lying beneath. Take Emmerdale, for example. There’s always some scandal going on there, dodgy dealings or arson or murder or whatnot. The villages of Midsomer are the ultimate examples of course, where homicidal maniacs can often be found lurking beneath the fete bunting.

Midwich, though, has to take the cake. When Zoe and Sam arrive in the, yes, idyllic village, they are charmed by the locals and scenery alike. They are handed over the keys to their lovely new house, and as instructed Zoe observes Midwich tradition and enters through the doorway backwards. Sam fails to follow suit, and when a few hours later the lights go out across the entire village and everybody falls into a coma, his blatant disregard for superstition must be the reason.

What he can’t be blamed for is the mass impregnation of the town’s female population of childbearing years. Two months after the blackout, which lasted for twelve hours and was closely monitored by the army who arrived suspiciously quickly to the scene, the women of Midwich are summoned to a community hall to explain that their pregnancies are definitely not run of the mill and will be supervised by a government agency.

So ends the first two episodes of The Midwich Cuckoos, an adaptation of the science fiction book of the same name by John Wyndham, that began on Sky Max last Thursday and is also available on Now TV. It has previously been made as 1960 movie Village of the Damned, but has reverted to its original name for this series, since there are so many damned villages in England that the other title just felt misleading.

A seven-part series, the sinister children we’ve all been waiting for don’t even make an appearance until episode three. The first two episodes could easily have been condensed into one; while there is a good bit of character establishment – we meet Keeley Hawes’ Dr Susannah Zelleby, her troubled daughter Cassie, the bereaved police chief played by Max Beesley and a handful of the women and their partners, including newly arrived Zoe – it’s by and large a futile exercise, as none of the characters are particularly interesting or sympathetic.

It’s a slow-moving endurance (not unlike the human-eating plants the Triffids, another one of Wyndham’s creations), and has no real business plodding along like it is. Saying that, I couldn’t resist tuning into the third instalment (all episodes are available on Now TV), and it picks up quite a bit when the preternaturally fast-growing children are introduced.

While in the book and previous adaptations all the children share similar characteristics like platinum blonde hair and pale skin, in this series they resemble their mothers, but for a flash of golden in their eyes when they are about to do something evil, such as kill a dog or psychically force their mother to hold her hand over steam while cooking the family meal.

The children are the best thing about the whole endeavour, and the child actors portraying them do absolutely great jobs at being as creepy as can be, perfecting their hard stares and never being tempted to crack a smile. They are utterly convincing as menacing little brats, and for that reason I’ll keep going with the show, if only to watch out for the warning signs. Irish villages could be next…

Across the pond in Philadelphia, the teachers of Abbot Elementary thankfully don’t have to put up with murderous students, but do have to grapple with nixed budget, incompetent administration and the endless battle against giving up hope in the education system.

The sitcom began last Wednesday on Disney +, and despite the struggles the teachers face in educating the young minds in their care, it is a warm and funny mockumentary in the vein of Parks and Recreation and The US Office.

Created by and starring Quinta Brunsen, while the show leans into absurdities (in the first episode inept school principal Ava Coleman spends money designated for new rugs on a flashy new school sign bearing her image), it also shines a light on the sacrifices and extra efforts duty-bound teachers make for their pupils. It’s a cheerful 23-minute comedy that passes the time nicely.

  • First published in The Tuam Herald on 08 06 22

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