3 out of 5
Directed by: Iain Forsyth, Jane Pollard
While I tend to find any Neil Gaiman related work – including this one – to be of varying degrees of navel-gazing, that doesn’t mean I’m lacking in respect for his craft. It tends to be off the mark for me, but I think he has a unique and confident voice that has obviously translated well – books, shows, comics – for many, and has also likely inspired creators to which I’m more endeared. He’s well spoken and thoughtful in interviews, and undoubtedly stands firmly on the creators side of the comic business, on which it always pays to have a logical spokesperson such as he.
So, yes, I have some bias going into a Gaiman project, but some of that bias means I expect to be exposed to some pretty novel ideas.
The four episode Likely Stories adapts four of Neil’s shorts, erred toward a more horror sensibility. The navel-gazing is certainly there, as mentioned – open-ended ‘What if it means something more?’ type pointifications – and there’s incredible indulgence in having characters tune in to TV clips or radio of Gaiman being interviewed on that episode’s story inspiration, but… Likely Stories also uses that same navel-gazing stance to do something pretty bold for an anthology type, Black Mirror-esque series: it doesn’t try to end things on a zinger. The core conceit of any given episode is generally pretty interesting, and in a true story teller fashion, the half hours for each just let the narrative play out. It’s a little weird that this means we may not arrive at a satisfactory ending, but that can be better than a forced Black Mirror “twist” or predictable “evil wins again” Tales from the Crypt-type closing. I’d also say that the episodes are pretty topically challenging, even if they don’t dive too deep: Gaiman’s embrasure of the off-kilter is on display by his acceptance, in the way the show’s characters are presented, of social quirks and outcasts and social “failures.”
So it’s an interesting watch. Though it’s relative dryness and lack of clear endings makes me glad it was only a short viewing.