Iain De Caestecker stars in "The Fades." (Dean Rogers, BBC )
In "The Fades," which premieres Saturday on BBC America, Paul (Iain De Caestecker) and Mac (Daniel Kaluuya) are best friends; they would have to be, having no other ones. Seventeen going on 14, they share a world in which all useful metaphors, if little practical knowledge, are available in the works of Spielberg, Lucas and Tolkien. We've met them before, in many places: Mac is the Virgin Who Can't Stop Talking About Sex; Paul is the Guy Who Would Be Hunky If He'd Only Stand Up Straight.
Paul also has begun to see dead people, the deceased yet un-departed who, unable to find their way out of the world, grow increasingly peeved; what's more, by taking a page out of the zombie playbook, the ghosts are getting their agency back, Lord Voldemort-style. The ragtag gifted underground that has joined to fight them, and into which Paul is reluctantly drawn, calls them Fades; the Fade-fighters are "Angelics," for reasons not immediately clear, but you start to get the picture. An ashy apocalypse, glimpsed by Paul in visions that make him wet his bed, is waiting in the wings.
Teenagers have been saving the world from monsters at least since Steve McQueen busted "The Blob" back in 1958. There is little original in "The Fades" — like Buffy Summers, like Harry Potter, Paul is a Chosen One, fated to play an unasked-for pivotal role in a war between the dark and the light. Even the character of the nerd into "Star Wars" refers to a well-established literature of nerds into "Star Wars." And creator-writer Jack Thorne can't avoid dropping in a reference to "The Sixth Sense" — if not the first "I see dead people" story, the one that made that phrase — to acknowledge that he, too, knows there is nothing new under the blood-red moon.
But originality isn't the point anymore: What matters is how you assemble your references and dress them up. Like "Skins," another coming-of-age series to which Thorne contributed, "The Fades" is set on the hard, cold ground of the new England: One reason the dead are having trouble moving on is that the old exit doors have been covered over by modern-city concrete, and that blackbirds are falling from the sky seems less the herald of otherworldly evil than it does a 21st-century weather report.
And "The Fades" works. Unlike many characters in his approximate place, Paul is extremely, appropriately disturbed by what he sees and might have to do. But there is just enough normal business conducted in well-lit spaces to keep the series from sinking under the weight of its gloom.
I'm interested to see how things work out for Paul with Jay (Sophie Wu), who snubs him in public but privately groks his otherness. And I very much like the comical Kaluuya; Mac's hopefulness makes this world seem worth saving. "No one is as despised as us," he says to Paul, looking on the bright side: "That's quite an achievement."
Where: BBC America
When: 6 and 9:15 p.m. Saturday
Rating: TV-14 (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14)