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Part psychological drama, part sci-fi, British-made "Meadowlands" follows a family of four as they start life anew in an isolated, suburban-styled community populated entirely of people in a witness-protection program. Although it looks pleasant, even idyllic, from a distance, "Meadowlands" is bubbling with matrimonial conflict, repressed sexuality and latent violence, all of which is dutifully monitored, Big Brother-style.
There's obviously a lot going on in this brave new world created by Robert Murphy, but the whole is less than the sum of the parts. Murphy is adept at creating clever mind games between his characters, but moments of true suspense or fright are few and far between.
David Morrissey and Lucy Cohu star as Danny and Evelyn Brogan, parents of 17-year-old twins. Their daughter, Zoe (a mesmerizing performance by Felicity Jones), can be flirtatious and sensual at one moment and sullen the next. Their son Mark, (Harry Treadaway), is slightly autistic, withdrawn and partial to his sister's clothes. They came to Meadowlands after their house was set afire. Who did it and why are not terribly important, at least not after they move in.
Brenda (Melanie Hill), the next-door neighbor, is the town busybody. The tough town constable is Bernard Wintersgill (Ralph Brown), and the local handyman is Jack Donnelly (Tom Hardy). Like everyone in Meadowlands, they're all a little creepy, especially the fix-it guy, who is far and away the spookiest of the bunch.
Meadowlands, with its manicured lawns and freshly painted houses, is vaguely reminiscent of the artificial community presented in "The Truman Show," where characters and reality itself is manipulated. In that film, the goal was to create a fun and compelling television series. Here, the purpose is more vague. Samantha (Nina Sosanya), the handler, wants mostly to maintain order and keep everyone comfortable.
Director Duane Clark excels with his vivid contrast between a placid town and the passion and longings that occur within it. He coaxes sharp performances from a well-chosen cast. He also makes the most of surprise twists in the series, though there aren't enough of these.
Showtime's scheduling is impeccable. "Meadowlands," an eight-episode series, will premiere the week after HBO's premiere of "John From Cincinnati." The new HBO series followed the final episode of "The Sopranos." By waiting for the hoopla to die down, "Meadowlands" will bask in a brighter spotlight and maybe even attract viewers who tried "John" but didn't want to stay with it.
Executive producer: Douglas Rae, Matthew Alridge, Francis Hopkinson
Co-executive producer: Caroline Levy
Line Producer: Dominic Barlow
Director: Duane Clark
Writer: Robert Murphy
Director of photography: John Daly
Production designer: Brian Sykes
Editor: Luke Dunkley
Composer: Adrian Johnston
Art director: Katy Tuxford
Casting: Gary Davy
Danny Brogan: David Morrissey
Evelyn Brogan: Lucy Cohu
Zoe Brogan: Felicity Jones
Mark Brogan: Harry Treadaway
Bernard Wintersgill: Ralph Brown
Samantha: Nina Sosanya
Brenda Ogilvie: Melanie Hill
Jezebel Ogilvie: Ella Smith
Dr. David York: Tristan Gemmill
Abigail York: Emma Davies
Jack Donnelly: Tom Hardy