In Which The Shannara Chronicles Remains Rather Cynical

Elf Stone

by DICK CHENEY

The Shannara Chronicles
creators Alfred Gough & Miles Millar

289096-4.jpgThe last time I watched MTV the entire channel was reruns of Beavis & Butthead that I had already seen and repeated, unending loops of “California Love.” Christ that song was bad. MTV has always been very literal, since their messaging is cynical, as is all marketing directed at children.

Enter their new original series, The Shannara Chronicles. This fantasy outing features a young princess Amberle (Poppy Drayton) who has to enter a tree in order to claim the bloodseed, which she has to deliver to some safe place in order to regrow the phallic trunk. The seed itself resembles congealed semen, and one of the other characters might as well have cracked, “I hope it is not that time of the month.” Terry Brooks penned the books this show is based on, and to say he was averse to overt sexual metaphor would be a lie.

While she is inside the tree, Amberle hallucinates fighting off a bunch of men. They try to kill and rape her, but she does them in with a sword. It is at that point when they win her respect, and she is allowed to carry their semen off with her. She tells one of the men, “I never loved you,” since he looks like her old boyfriend, who died recently. Poppy Drayton’s nostrils are massive, and as an actress, her greatest strength is looking somewhat surprised by every single thing that happens to her, e.g. this face:

Attempting to salvage the hot disaster that constitutes roughly all of this is James Remar, who plays a misogynist thief named Cephalo. He has a slave named Eretria (Ivana Baquero of Pan’s Labyrinth) who is unfortunately so gorgeous and talented that she outshines the princess who is supposed to be the main draw in The Shannara Chronicles. A supporting actress should never make a lead actress look plain.

Since the relationship between master and hot slave is the only interesting aspect of The Shannara Chronicles, instead we are forced to witness scene after scene with Wil (Austin Butler) a farm elf who can use magic stones in lieu of any actual intelligence or ability. Butler at least is trying to be decent in this thankless role of a blond goofball who is the center of events for zero reason, but his straight man with a bad name Allanon (Manu Bennett) looks like he just stepped off the set of a porno.

Bennett plays a druid who is over a hundred years old. He cannot act like at all, and he gets most of the painful screentime here. The original novel was an attempt to rewrite LOTR with an actual story and characters. The Shannara Chronicles is a lot better than watching Peter Jackson’s odious movies, but that that is not saying much. Brooks does manage a few interesting — if familiar — twists with the lame fantasy conceits Tolkien relied on: Shannara is set on a dying Earth with a capital E, and bloodlines explain the genomic split between humanity and its sister species.

The chief problem with The Shannara Chronicles is that they are entirely humorless. This is no fault of the original material, but more the wonky adaptation. Millar and Gough, in all of their television output, are incapable of putting any jokes into their writing. At least Tolkien conceived of some crude comic relief since he knew on some level he was a shit writer. The Shannara Chronicles has some lame banter about its characters staring at each other’s naked bodies, but even the sex is glossed over. Did Gough and Millar never see Undressed?

Shannara actually features a decent, if relatively mundane plot. Normally, a drama without humor would be perfectly acceptable on its own. But fantasy by its exaggerated nature relies so much on the existence of comedy to make the fantastic something outside our own experience. There is no wonder in this deformed America; even the most massive cavern or lookout is reacted to to as if were grudgingly familiar. The show’s first sequence features a decimated Space Needle, soon relegated to a mere memory like every other gorgeous visual the show’s stellar art design provides.

John Rhys-Davis portrays the elf king Eventine. His scenes with his disbelieving, power-hungry son Arion (Daniel McPherson) are great fun, since they feature an actual conflict and the motivations are easily understandable. McPherson is one of the best discoveries in The Shannara Chronicles, since the show badly needs an antagonist other than the whining demon (Jed Brophy) who spends most of his time swirling around a gray and listless netherworld. Such scenes are too close to Peter Jackson’s movies to be called tribute.

For what I assume are budgetary reasons, the production values here seem much higher than on Miller and Gough’s AMC show, Into the Badlands, which recently concluded its first season with a finale so effortlessly dull I am shocked anyone lasted so long to see it. The Shannara Chronicles has a much brighter future, but like the other show, it may not actually be edgy enough to keep the attention of those accustomed to the heightened violence that Netflix series and adult movies can allow for. The Shannara Chronicles is for kids, and it shows.

Dick Cheney is the senior contributor to This Recording.

“The Cabin” – Bear McCready (mp3)


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