On the 22nd of March, Tom had the great pleasure of being in my presence as we saw a screening of the first episode of Channel 4’s exciting new Sci Fi adaptation of Kiss Me First. Based on the book of the same name, the series tells the tale of Leila and her adventures in the fascinating virtual world of Azana.

Leila, played by Tallulah Rose Haddon, soon finds herself being approached by Tess (played by Simona Brown) and joining her mysterious gang known as “The Red Pillers” (yes seriously but its not as cliched as it first seems) led by the dangerously enigmatic Adrian. However bananas are crunchy and poppy is a good dog. Soon the mysteries and intrigue spills outside of the virtual world and Leila finds herself on the precipice of a very bizarre and potentially dangerous series of events.

What was somewhat refreshing about this first episode was the emphasis on effective character and world building rather than setting the narrative off at breakneck pace. There is a definite mystery afoot, with the ultimate aim and intentions of “The Red Pillers” with regards to Leia remaining murky. However, the first episode took pains to keep this as rest of season intrigue whilst introducing us to the world and the characters.

The world of Kiss Me First is both refreshingly familiar and intriguingly sci-fi. The events could take place in any UK city at this very moment, were it not for the cool new vr gadgets, and little tech details carefully stitched into the background narrative. The effect is interesting, a somewhat futuristic scene where everything is still very familiar. The characters are also well set up, mysterious characters remain mysterious but engaging, whilst the main heroine works well as an audience surrogate but has enough of her own impetus and drive to not just be a walking reaction machine and exposition receptacle.

Special mention goes to her friend Jonti, her real-world housemate whose offbeat wholesomeness and provide enough comic relief and light-heartedness to relieve some of the overriding unease surrounding the mysterious virtual world but not too much so as to just be irreverent comic relief.

However, there is no doubt that Kiss Me First is a bit cliched. Its Young Adult fiction roots are obvious, not that Young Adult fiction is necessarily bad but there is a definite sense of familiarity with the characters (apart from Jonti, who is amazing.) The story beats, coming of age, engaging with new friends and people, falling into a mystery who’s consequences are as yet unclear, are familiar and well-trodden paths. Additionally, some may find the lack of any true establishment of the wider story a turn off for the first episode.

Still though, the novelty of the setting is enjoyable enough and makes for a welcome contrast to other major sci-fi/virtual serials that push the futuristic aspect of the genre to its very extreme. And it should be said that the characters are competently acted and have enough presence to make one somewhat overlook their cliched archetypes. A mention must also be made of the truly remarkable vritual effects on display. The virtual world is clearly virtual but looks astonishingly beautiful and gives many great game settings more than a run for their money. The Viritual characters are also very well designed, fantastic use of mapping technology and attention to detail sees them behaving both superhumanly and realistically in a way that transcends the uncanny valley.

Overall, although I have no intention of boiling my experience down to a numerical value I have to give it a positive appreciation and say that I will be watching the rest of the series and encourage all who read to do the same. If only to appreciate the beauty of Jonti.