A few weeks ago my wife and I watched through The Shannara Chronicles, the MTV series that is now on Netflix. I caught a few of the early episodes when they were available for free online, but we watched the series in its entirety over the course of a week or two.
The show is adapted from the Shannara series of novels by Terry Brooks (specifically The Elfstones of Shannara for this opening season). I had never looked all that closely into the series until I heard about the show, but based on the trailers I was intrigued. I have even picked up a few of the used paperbacks, and I still plan to get to them eventually (although my “to read” list is so long at this point, who knows when I actually will). That being said, I didn’t have too many expectations going into the series. But as a nerd who is especially drawn to the fantasy genre, I was hopeful.
The early episodes drew me in for sure. It definitely carried that MTV flavor that you would expect from a show on that network, and that really isn’t my cup of tea, but it still felt like a pretty good fantasy show. I felt Manu Bennett’s performance was especially good, and the setting and effects were solid.
I also thought the idea of the Ellcrys, the magical tree in the heart of the elven kingdom that serves as barrier that prevents the banished demons from once again attempting to ravage the lands, was particularly intriguing and offered something that felt fresh.
All of this set up what seemed to be a promising opening season of the show. However, it certainly seemed to falter in the mid-season. The rather strange and decidedly un-fantasy portrayal of the trolls in particular gave me nightmarish flashbacks to the utterly disappointing Urgals in the Eragon film (though I’m not sure anything could touch that source material sin). The love triangle between Wil and Eretria/Amberle, and romantic relationships in general, felt forced and like they were attempting to be the awkward TV-14 version of Game of Thrones. What had felt like a fantasy show with some MTV flavors thrown in began to feel like an MTV show with some fantasy flavors thrown in. Not a good thing, in my opinion. And this was reflected in a few groans and facepalms as we continued to watch, but…
It wasn’t all bad or cringe-worthy. In fact, I felt like the ending helped bring it back to the hopefulness I experienced at the beginning. So despite the rocky middle, overall I was glad to have watched it. The world was interesting, characters and kingdoms compelling enough, and action was the type of thing you would hope for in a fantasy show. It made me more interested to see how Terry Brooks wrote the world, characters, and interactions, and I think that is a good thing. And besides, who doesn’t want to see John Rhys-Davies, Gimli himself, as king of the elves?
I will definitely be taking a look at season two, and I hope that the showrunners will cut some of the MTV fluff and tell the epic storylines that I am sure are present in the novels. I would give season one 2/3 elfstones, but season two needs to impress me to keep me coming back to their version of the Four Lands.