Review: The Librarians 1×1-1×2 (US: TNT; UK: SyFy)

In the US: Sundays, 8/7c, TNT
In the UK: Mondays, 8pm, Syfy

As I remarked a while back, TNT is best known for airing crime shows, both scripted and unscripted. While there have been a few exceptions over the years, the vast bulk of its output has been about cops and solving mysteries and the few exceptions along the way have mostly perished and died very quickly.

One of the few things on TNT that hasn’t involved crime and yet has survived the years is Noah Wyle. As well as his alien invasion show, Falling Skies, he’s also been the lead in an occasional series of TV movies based around a character called The Librarian. Part Indiana Jones, part Nicolas Cage in National Treasure, the Librarian has roamed the Earth for the best part of a decade, cracking ancient clues, engaging in daring-do, so that he can find lost magical artefacts such as Excalibur and the Spear of Destiny, so they can be safeguarded in a New York magical library run by Bob Newhart and Jane Curtin.

This year, though, TNT is making a concerted effort to branch out into other genres as part of its ‘boom’ campaign. Yes, ‘TNT – boom’: you can imagine how long it took them to think that one up. Surprisingly, ‘boom’s been doing quite well. While Legends isn’t the world’s best show, it’s an decent enough attempt to branch out into the spy genre and has been renewed for a second season. The big cable hit of the summer was TNT’s The Last Ship, a delightful combination of ship warfare and killer viruses that I loved and which is also back for a second season next year.

So perhaps it’s no surprise that TNT’s ‘boom’ is giving us The Librarians, an attempt to turn this occasional movie series into a potentially far more lucrative multi-episode TV series. Beginning with a two part special, the series sees ‘the Serpent Brotherhood’ trying to kill off the Librarian and any other potential Librarians so they can return magic to the world and then rule it.

Wyle has to round up the surviving potential librarians, who are largely former TNT stars (Rebecca Romijn from King & Maxwell and Christian Kane from Leverage), protect the library and save the world. And while it has a budget of about $4, the authenticity of a Ratner’s ring, the attention to historical detail of an Asterix book and an ensemble of actors about as convincing as the average glove puppet, it’s actually a very enjoyable bit of family fun.

Here’s a trailer:

Returning to the universe of TNT’s hit movie franchise, The Librarian, this new series centers on an ancient organization hidden beneath the Metropolitan Public Library dedicated to protecting an unknowing world from the secret, magical reality hidden all around. This group solves impossible mysteries, fights supernatural threats and recovers powerful artifacts, including the Ark of the Covenant, the Spear of Destiny and Excalibur.

Is it any good?
We’re not exactly talking edgy or even great, but if you remember rubbish 80s shows like Friday The 13th or The Fall Guy and fancy a jolly romp through jolly old England, jolly old Germany or even jolly old America – all of them quite obviously Canada with a few extra street signs and some poor CGI stuck on top – then The Librarians could be right up your street.

There’s obviously going to be two camps among the audience: those who have seen The Librarian movies and those who haven’t. Those who have will obviously be concerned that the show is going to take a huge dump over all the things they’ve loved in order to establish its own presence; those who haven’t will be worried that they won’t have a clue what’s going on.

So it’s quite an astute move by TNT to effectively start the series with a new movie, which gives it the running time to not only touch bases with family Librarian tropes (Wyle, Newhart, Curtin, Excalibur, the Library) to reassure the old fans but also explain everything to newbies. There’s bound to be a few tears shed over the necessary changes to the format to set up the series – the removal of Curtin, Newhart and even the Library itself and the relocation of operations from New York to ‘Portland’ (Canada, of course) to deal with the necessities of budget and action – but the show takes pains to not actually destroy everything, merely ‘misplace’ them (I’m trying to avoid spoilers here).

Wyle, of course, isn’t going to be a regular on the show, but he is established as an effective force and isn’t reduced in stature merely to make the new arrivals look good. He’s also due to guest star in later episodes and the reasons for his not being in every episode are decently constructed.

Of course, we have a new cast, including Romijn, Kane and John Larroquette, who subs for Newhart and Curtin. Oddly, Romijin is the brawn, a NATO counter-terrorism expert, while Kane is the brains, a Texan oil worker who actually went to the Sorbonne and knows his art history. This is the less plausible way round, particularly given Kane’s MMA background and work on Leverage, and given that Romijin is unconvincing in pretty much every fight in which she’s involved. That’s actually a problem with all the fights, though, which again hark back to the 80s in their general ineptitude, so let’s not lay too much blame at her door for this.

On top of the ineptly-gender-reversing Kane and Romijn, we have Lindy Booth playing a synesthesist, which gives her savant-like abilities*, and Neighbours’ John Kim. While it’s nice to have someone who’s not only Australian and allowed to keep his Australian accent but also Asian and also allowed to be Australian, the fact he’s a thief who keeps getting referred to as ‘shifty’ is really something the producers need to have a long think about.

For that true 80s nostalgia, despite the fact there’s now probably more British actors in Canada and the US than there are in the UK now, we have Canadian Matt Frewer (yes, Max Headroom himself) playing the English head of the Serpent Brotherhood, raiding the obviously not Tower of London, partying in the obviously not Buckingham Palace, all of which are made more ‘British’ through the addition of Union Flags, red buses, black cabs and Canadian bit-part players doing even worse English accents. He’s after both the Crown of King Arthur and the Sword in the Stone, from which Excalibur was first taken.

Stop me if you can spot the obvious mistake in that previous sentence.

But to flag up the poor fights, general implausibility and inaccuracy of it all, the dodgy effects, the wooden acting, etc, etc, would be churlish, because this isn’t a show that really is going for verisimilitude. And while it certainly had the potential to be the next Bonekickers as a result, it’s fun and clearly aimed at a family audience, rather than a bunch of pedantic adult history buffs, and when it’s stupid, it’s stupid for a reason, rather than because it’s trying to emulate something it doesn’t quite understand. Yes, the characters aren’t plausible or well drawn, but they’re intended as role models for kids instead – yes, girls, you can pretty and tough; yes, boys, you can be tough, work on an oil rig and yet read books.

The Librarians is escapist fun that all the family can watch. It’s Buffy lite; it’s Merlin and Atlantis made interesting.

And it’s got Bruce Campbell as Santa Claus. No show that has Bruce Campbell as Santa Claus can be knocked. Give it a try, particularly if you have kids.

* I’m confidently predicted synesthesia as the TV Aspergers for 2015. All the shows will be doing it soon – you’ll see.


  • Rob Buckley

    I’m Rob Buckley, a journalist who writes for UK media magazines that most people have never heard of although you might have heard me on the podcast Lockdown Land or Radio 5 Live’s Saturday Edition or Afternoon Edition. I’ve edited Dreamwatch, Sprocket and Cambridge Film Festival Daily; been technical editor for TV producers magazine Televisual; reviewed films for the short-lived newspaper Cambridge Insider; written features for the even shorter-lived newspaper Soho Independent; and was regularly sarcastic about television on the blink-and-you-missed-it “web site for urban hedonists” The Tribe. Since going freelance, I've contributed to the likes of Broadcast, Total Content + Media, Action TV, Off The Telly, Action Network, TV Scoop and The Custard TV.