Nickelodeon’s House of Anubis is on hiatus this week, so I thought I’d get in a quick post about a series that has captivated many of the fifth-grade girls I know*. Based on a Dutch-Belgian series (Het Huis Anubis), House tells the story of an American girl named Nina Martin who begins classes at a British boarding school and stumbles into a mystery surrounding treasures from King Tut’s tomb that may be hidden in the students’ dorm house that involves possible mummies’ curses, kidnappings, sacrifices, and an elixir of life that prevents people from aging. It’s the first Nick offering filmed outside the US , made in Liverpool during the summer of 2010, and provides American Nicksters with a good Brit-based soap/thriller, a sort of Masterpiece Theatre lite. Like most Euro shows, its episodes come in 11-minute installments, and Nick has been showing two back-to-back, usually five nights a week. This week, they’re letting the tension build as we wait to discover how Nina and her cohorts will solve the mystery after the only person who could help them has passed away.
The theme song gives us our first clue that this is not going to be a scare fest. There’s no weirdo Dr.Who-style music or some kind of bizarro take on Egyptian sounds — just an upbeat tune that tells us we’re in for more of a romp than an exploration of the dark side. (Perhaps the conspiracy theorists at vigilantcitizen.com should have waited to the hear the theme, if not to watch the show itself, before declaring it a dangerous means of luring impressionable American tweens into the world of the Illuminati that presents an “evil agenda” and represents “an abomination in the Lord’s eyes.”)
The show focuses on the eight students who live in Anubis House and offers realistic teen delights and dilemmas alongside the mystery — in fact, several of the students are not even aware that there is anything creepy going on in the basement of Anubis House (weird pseudo-Egyptian rituals with people in cloaks and dog masks? Quite possibly. We’re waiting to see). Mick, for instance, just wants to survive academics long enough to embark on a sports career, Mara wants to be liked (especially by Mick) as more than the house brainiac, Alfie is obsessed with aliens, and Patricia, at first, just wants to know why her friend Joy suddenly left school. The first two to catch on to the mystery are Nina and Fabian and are encouraged by the addled Emily from the local nursing home, who turns out to be Sarah Frobisher-Smyth, the daughter of two of those involved with the opening of King Tut’s tomb. When her parents died (presumably of the curse associated with the opening of the tomb), Sarah came to live in the home that became Anubis House, along with a slightly sinister young boy named Victor Roddenmeyer, who is now the housemaster for the students. But why does he look as young as he did in the Twenties, while Sarah has aged? Victor’s a malevolent sort, to be sure, and not just because he makes the kids go to bed at ten — he just may kill and preserve stray cats and seems to be the master of spooky ceremonies in the basement held with other faculty members like the headmaster, Mr. Sweet, and an English teacher, Ms. Andrews.
Francis Magee, well known to Brit TV watchers for his role on the long-running soap Eastenders, makes a wonderfully creepy Victor. As many viewers have pointed out on message boards about the show, not all the actors on House are as convincing in their roles. Nathalia Ramos, who played teen model Dakota North on True Jackson, VP, is rather wooden as Nina and as Patricia, Jade Ramsay seems to be working under the assumption that if she says everything really loudly and with great emphasis, it will take on some kind of import. But Eugene Simon brings some spark to the snarky Jerome Clark, who seems aloof and even cold but just may reveal hidden depths of sensitivity if he can get over his parents’ abandoning him at school, and Brad Kavanagh’s Fabian Rutter is the sort of kind, supportive, low-key and handsome boyfriend many viewers would want for themselves. While her character is a bit schizophrenic — typical blonde mean girl one episode, sweet ditzy friend in the next — Ana Mulvoy Ten’s Amber Millington is probably the most amusing character, and a favorite of the girls I know who watch the show. She schemes to get Mick back from Mara, believing that someone as pretty as she is deserves a boyfriend who gives out as many gifts as Mick does, but she’s also somewhat helpful as the founder of the sleuths’ group “Sibuna” (Anubis backwards) and seems dead right that Victor has to be the head baddie because “he has such evil hair.” The odd kids out, at least at first, are the students of color, Mara Jaffray and Alfie Lewis, and many viewers can relate to the struggles to fit in and be accepted that lead them, at times, to allow others to take advantage of them. Consequently, we’re happy when the smart, reserved Mara ends up with two suitors (Jerome and Mick) but we hold little hope that Alfie will either win Amber’s heart or discover the aliens he is convinced have taken over his school.
Check out the trailer at http://www.nick.com/videos/clip/house-of-anubis-promo-N13071-01.html and catch House of Anubis next week, two episodes at 7 EST. It’s fun, a decent mystery, and an excellent introduction to the breadth and variety of English accents.
*This blog has been on a sort of hiatus as well, not that anyone has noticed. Since I started it in part to establish a "web presence" and provide a sort of "platform" for myself as a YA writer, I thought I ought to get back to a little YA writing myself.