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Saturday, 5 March 2016

The Shannara Chronicles

The Shannara Chronicles

Having gotten surprisingly little sleep, I'm blinking blearily at this review, wondering exactly what to say. In all honesty, much of the Shannara Chronicles was a blur for me, a parade of dubiously good looking young adults mumbling things while looking very concerned, usually before taking off their clothes for reasons that, all told, were never entirely clear. Sometimes Manu Bennett showed up, but in all honesty, he was not much better, bar that he usually kept his clothes on.

Incidentally, the series is based on the book series of the same name by Terry Brooks - although for some reason it's based on the second book, not the first - which currently consists of nineteen massive novels, and which are largely creditable for the mass market high fantasy boom that still persists today.

Set in a post-apocalyptic version of Chicago, because that's the most boring setting anyone could think of, the show follows Elven princess Amberle and half-elf Wil, both of whom discover they are destined to restore the failing Ellcrys, a magical tree which imprisons an army of demons, by traveling to 'Safehold', bathing a seed in the 'blood fire' and returning to the Ellcrys before an army of demons can overrun the Four Lands and the elven city of Arborlon. Meanwhile, back in Arborlon, Allanon, an ancient druid, attempts to rally the forces of the Four Lands behind the Elessedil kings, and train his potential replacement, a young elf named Bandon with a dark power.

In case you think anything about this situation makes sense, let me assure you that
it does not.

So, in the interests of being honest and up-front: This series is terrible. While it gets off to what is actually quite a promising start, setting itself up to be some Good Clean Fantasy Fun, from about the second episode onwards its quality declines sharply, and for some reason, it never manages to reach rock bottom.

Let's start with the acting: Austin Butler, playing Wil Ohmsford, is not a good actor, unless you're casting him for a role that involves him slurring his way through his lines like someone just woke him up and stuck a script in front of his nose. Poppy Drayton, playing Princess Amberle Elessedil, is also not a good actor - she's marginally better than Butler, but she plays every scene as if her character is shocked by everything happening around her, thus leading to the impression that Amberle is the most incredulous person in all of fiction.

But the series does have some good actors. I've enthusiastically praised Manu Bennett on this blog before, and nobody could ever accuse John Rhys-Davies of being a bad actor - and they both start off fine, but I swear, they get worse as the series goes on. Rhys-Davies is blissfully spared the worst of it by having his character killed off halfway through the series, but Bennett suffers through to the end, and by the closing scenes of the final episode is droning his lines as if he understands all the individual words but cannot comprehend them in the order they've been put in.

Now kiss, I guess. I suppose. If you feel like it.

The plot is also not much better. It's a fairly simple storyline - do the thing with the thing before the thing happens - but the writers seem intent on sapping any tension and drama out of it, either by having the main threats to the characters vanish partway through the story, by having weird episodic plots involving what appears to be a village of enraged nightclub Mormons, or just with relationship drama.

The relationship drama is worth talking about, because through it the writers make every single character act like no human being has ever acted in history. Wil sleeps with anyone who so much as drops a double entendre into conversation, and then acts like it was a momentary mistake, like tripping on his shoelaces, and apart from some token resistance, everybody goes along with it. Characters will bring up their love triangle at the most bizarre moments, and then forget about them minutes later. At one point, in the penultimate episode no less, two ghosts provoke Amberle and another character into what amounts to a catfight with intent to kill over slurry-voiced, stupid-haired Wil, before one of them starts bleeding and they immediately forget their context-inappropriate violence and instead focus on the task at hand.

Okay, so the explanation here is that she's just gotten out of a lake she was bathing in,
but - really? Really, writers?

This is never brought up again. At no point in the final episode does anyone remark on how it's a bit weird that all it took was some snide ghosts to provoke two people, one of whom will rule a country one day, into attempted murder. 

When the series ended with one of the characters becoming a tree for reasons which were only barely foreshadowed, I didn't care. I was glad it was over.

All in all, this show is just really, really bad. It's almost unwatchable, if I'm being honest.

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