Highlander fling

The latest in the Highlander series brings together a former Miss America and the Diet Coke ad man. Matthew Valentine is not caught up in the romance

The long-running Highlander series of films and TV shows has spawned its latest incarnation. Highlander – The Raven features an immortal warrior, played by former Miss America Elizabeth Gracen, making a living in the US of today as a cat burglar.

At the Sci-Fi Channel launch of the show last week, executives from the channel described the show as the “latest episodes from the Highlander franchise”. If this makes the show sound like the equivalent of a fast-food restaurant, it is fairly accurate. This is TV by numbers.

If you saw the original Highlander movies featuring Christopher Lambert as a fellow “immortal”, or any of its subsequent spin-offs, you will know what to expect. Swords, flashbacks and bright lights fill the gaps in the storyline. As befits a show meant for the post-X Files generation of viewers, there is a government conspiracy sub-plot thrown in for good measure.

Gracen is supported in her adventures by that staple of adventure shows – a tough, hard drinking, unshaven ex-cop with a twist. Played by Paul Johansson – better known as the hunk from the Diet Coke ads – he is called Nick Wolfe. The twist is that he speaks French. Compared to previous TV cops – who have had twists ranging from blindness to wheelchair dependency, this is fairly lame. The heroine, despite having had 1200 years to get hunks who speak French out of her system, is more than suitably impressed.

Where the series could have excelled – and where designers could have proved their worth – is in the special effects department. Unfortunately, they are designed to the same identikit standards as the plot. Lightening flashes and occasional mystic pauses are about the extent of it all.

But, for all the negative points, the show doesn’t fail to entertain. The immortal characters are having trouble adjusting to modern life. “I hate the Internet,” moans one, as a computer geek uses the World Wide Web to prove he hasn’t aged in 50 years. And watching the actors struggle with clumsy lines can be hugely amusing. As the prelude to a fatal swordfight, the phrase “I’m sorry Amanda, but you’ll never get to taste my gnocchi” takes some beating. Amanda, the immortal heroine, also suffers from a cloak which rustles like a Labrador running through autumn leaves, every time she moves quickly. Magically, it is inaudible to bad guys.

Whether Gracen and Johansson achieve the heights scaled by the co-stars of The X Files remains to be seen. While Highlander – The Raven attempts to emulate that show’s sexual tension, it can’t match its prime-time BBC appearance. But the stars themselves, dutifully present for the launch, don’t have to be too worried.

Gracen has just completed her first documentary, about drag queen beauty pageants, as a director. Johansson recently stepped behind the camera for a short film based on Oscar Wilde’s story Day of Judgement and a bad dream he once had. In fact, Johansson says the only problem with his appearance in the Diet Coke ad is that everybody now assumes he’s a model, when he’s actually been acting for 12 years in soap operas and movies.

As viewers, we may as well get used to shows like this one. With the advent of the digital TV age we will probably be seeing a lot more of them.

Perhaps prizes will be on offer to those who can suggest interesting new character traits for the policemen. Living on boats, driving fast cars, being alcoholic, bald, stupid, rich, poor, smart, scruffy, old, young and even being dead, have all been used for TV cops. No doubt we’ll be seeing most of them again.

Highlander – The Raven launches on the Sci-Fi Channel on 13 November at 8.30pm

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