Satan is alive and well and looks like Whoopi Goldberg
SABC1 premiered one of its most brilliant comedy offerings ever last week.
Except it was a drama.
It’s been a while since a local TV series has been as hyped as the new occult thriller Room 9.
“South Africa’s answer to the X-Files” promised zombie cops, muti murders and paranormal activity – and its first episode was to be written and directed by Oscar-nominated Darrell Roodt.
It seemed that SA’s burgeoning sci-fi fantasy genre – spurred by the likes of District 9 and Zoo City – would finally arrive, triumphant, on our small screens.
Instead, it washed up like a sodden remnant of late 90s American pop culture with all the psychological depth of Baywatch.
From the glitchy opening sequence and the classic cop drama motif of typeface and typewriter sounds establishing scenes, it was clear that Room 9 is the worst kind of clichéfest – urban African folklore revised as American schlock and sold back to Africa.
Virtually every line of the on-the-nose script was a cliché – seen hundreds of times before in made-for-TV movies.
Rattled-but-perky female cop smokes a cigarette outside crime scene.
Droopy, world-weary male cop: I didn’t know you smoked.
Female cop: I don’t.
Blind cop (mysteriously dusting a skull) being discussed by perky female cop and droopy male cop.
Blind cop: I can hear you. I’m blind, not deaf.
A rare extra, a barman, goes by the name of Spoeks. But hazard a guess what droopy cop’s name is?
Captain Harkness (“They call him Darkness”) – directly lifted from the protagonist in the BBC sci-fi drama Torchwood.
Perky cop’s name is Alice. “Like the little girl who fell down the rabbit hole,” says Harkness.
In case we didn’t get it, later we will meet a sangoma slasher killer done up like the Mad Hatter.
Except he looked ominously like Whoopi Goldberg in his crazy dreads and little round sunglasses.
Room 9 is set in “New Azania” some time in the future. Except we don’t know because the set barely exists, apart from some candles burning behind tulle.
But at least we know that domestic workers in the future will wear French maids’ outfits.
There’s no real sense of African city life, almost no indigenous language and no respect for the cultural mythology that Room 9 references – in this case the tokoloshe.
Alice hails from a rural village but doesn’t believe in ancestral spirits. Harkness does – and advises terrified Killarney maids to put bricks under their beds.
Room 9 offers little research and no respect. It has the cultural sensitivity of Bill Faure’s Shaka Zulu, with its darkest African witch doctors and studly black men in loincloths.
SABC isn’t entirely to blame this time. They licensed the series in from Urban Brew and DV8 Films, who put together a new funding model that could’ve worked – if they hadn’t roped in the likes of Roodt.
His vision of Africa is increasingly tinged with Hollywood sap.
His rural Aids drama Yesterday stereotyped its issues. His Winnie biopic has had to be re-edited to save face.
Yet once again, Roodt is South Africa’s official entrant for next year’s Oscars – with a wrenching rural drama about an orphan called Little One.
“Satan is alive and well and very busy in the Golden City tonight,” says Harkness.
Indeed – and he’s busy making your TV shows.
» Room 9 airs on Thursdays at 8:30pm on SABC1