Neverwhere is a six episode series produced by the BBC and written by the much-loved Neil Gaiman (Sandman, American Gods, Coraline). It’s about a nondescript man named Richard Mayhew who finds a girl named Door on the street one night and is subsequently pulled into London’s fantastical underworld.
Quite literally, as it happens, as there is whole other society existing on the edges of London, London Below. The homeless, the ill, and the otherwise disenfranchised maintain their own complex, feudal society in the sewers, back alleys, rooftops, and abandoned factories of the ‘real world.’ The places that people ignore are used by the people that people ignore.
There’s a magical element to it in the series. The people of London Above can see the people of London Below, but they just don’t make any impact or stick in their minds. This is the start of Richards problems, when he finds that after spending some time with the people from below, his old friends are no longer able to recognize him. It’s a rather blunt metaphor for our treatment of the poor; we see them, but we don’t care and quickly forget about them.
Of course, there’s a lot more magic in London Below than just the pseudo-invisibility. There are monsters, angels, and vampires. It’s a wonder that the denizens of below don’t use their super-human powers to rise up and takeover London Above. I guess they just like it better down there.
The six episodes of the series are in a serial format telling one continuous story. Door’s family has been killed, so she hires the Marquis de Carabas, a roguish anti-hero, and Hunter, a bodyguard, to help her find those responsible and avenge them. Richard tags along since he no longer has a life to go back to.
Neverwhere, while having a novel setting, follows a lot of the cliches of fantasy storytelling. There’s a quest embarked upon by a diverse party, each of whom is given their moment to overcome an obstacle that only their special abilities will let them do. There’s royalty, magic, trails, betrayal, and even a Gandolf-like resurrection for one of the heroes.
The setting does breath life into the archetypal characters and old story lines, though. Even if it’s not all that original, Neverwhere is well written and engaging enough to let is stand with the classics it cribs from.
The visual style of the series is unimpressive. I think the designers had some good ideas, but they didn’t have the budget to make them happen. Making matters worse, the whole thing was shot on video, resulting in a show that looks a lot like a ’70s sitcom set in a badly lit sewer.
The acting is quite good for the most part. Gaimen’s characters lend themselves to a little over-acting, which surely helps, and most of the actors pull it off successfully. The actor for Richard is a little subdued, which is fine most of the time since his character is supposed to be a dull, average man; but he doesn’t sound too convincing when subjected to extreme pain.
Neverwhere is great effort from very talented people that is held slightly back by the realities of television production budgets, but it’s still more than worth seeing.