Review: The Shannara Chronicles 1×1-1×3 (US: MTV)

The epitome of fantasy rubbish, but <i>so</i> much fun

In the US: Tuesdays, 10/9c, MTV
In the UK: Not yet acquired

When Into The Badlands arrived on our screens the other side of Christmas, I tried very hard to work out why it wasn’t any good. After all, it had impeccable source material to work with and a decent cast, and it had imported Hong Kong martial arts stars and choreographers to jazz up the fights. Except it was hackneyed and dull.

Was it because it was on AMC, famed for almost fetishing slow storytelling? Or was it simply because it was from Smallville creators Alfred Gough and Miles Millar, who perhaps aren’t up to post-apocalyptic quest dramas?

It turns out it’s probably a bit of both, but perhaps not for the reasons I was thinking of. I think it’s because Gough and Millar were putting all their effort into the rather similar The Shannara Chronicles.

‘The Shannara Chronicles’ is a new TV series based on the best-selling fantasy novels by Terry Brooks. Set thousands of years after the destruction of our civilization, the story follows an Elven Princess, Amberle, a half-human half-elf, Wil, and a human, Eretria, as they embark on a quest to stop a Demon army from destroying the Four Lands. Watch new episodes every Tuesday at 10/9c on MTV.

Is it any good?
To me, MTV is this:

But in recent years, they’ve made a sterling effort in terms of scripted TV, with the likes of Teen WolfFaking It and to a lesser extent Scream: The TV Series. The Shannara Chronicles is their latest and biggest scripted show, almost as ambitious as Game of Thrones in its own way. Based on Terry Brooks’ famous Shannara series of fantasy books, it’s set thousands of years from now, following the collapse of human civilisation, in a cod-medieval settting where magic, elves, demons, gnomes, trolls and humans all co-exist.

Kind of. There was a great big war and the demons were stopped by the elves using a magic tree, which has imprisoned them for so long, everyone thinks it’s all just a fairy tale. Except now the tree is dying and the demons are escaping, meaning the half-elf last descendant of King Shannara (Austin Butler from The Carrie DiariesRuby and the Rockits and Life Unexpected), an elven princess (Brit actress Poppy Drayton), a human thief (Ivana Baquero from Pan’s Labyrinth), and the last surviving magic-using Druid (Manu Bennett from Spartacus and Arrow) have to go on a quest to take a new tree seed to be washed in a blood river, so it can replace the current tree.

If that all sounds like complete bobbins, it is. Saddled with weapons-grade awful dialogue such as “Behold! The codex!”, stupid made-up fantasy languages and rufty-tufty outlaws that look like they’ve just come out of the salon, The Shannara Chronicles is almost the platonic absolute of fantasy shows – everyone’s concept of what a fantasy TV show is like comes from it, to the extent that Kröd Mändoon and the Flaming Sword of Fire was pastiching it half a decade before it even existed.

But despite all that, I would watch it over Into The Badlands in a heartbeat. For starters, it’s tremendously exciting. It’s got cracking effects, a top supporting cast (John Rhys Davies and James Remar doing sterlingly straight-faced work) and things happen all the time. True, a lot of that is “Quick! We must ride seven leagues to the realm of Thrigdybag in the Shire of Thromptywold to fetch the Magic Rune of T’Sar, the seventh Mage of the Order of Pipe Sealers. Then we must ride on our horses back to…”, but all the relentless questing, revealing of parentage, horses cantering over CGI-enhanced New Zealand landscape strewn with derelict cars, and magic-using is just dead gripping, all the same.

The perfectly made up teen leads spend a lot of time alternating between wise-cracking and po-faced “Why is this my destiny?”-ing, at least when they’re not guilty about accidentally seeing the others having showers or wearing their designer underwear. But unlike Into The Badlands, which feels like it got whatever was left of Gough and Millar’s creativity after they had finished this, they have interesting characters, the girls aren’t just sex slaves and they’re fun to watch as they actually make decisions and do things, rather than ponder it a lot.

And then, of course, there’s Manu Bennett. He’s awesome. He may not have a huge amount of acting talent, but that doesn’t matter because he’s Manu Bennett and it’s perfectly legitimate to have a crush/man-crush on him, no matter what. He may be mere inches away from being Basil Exposition’s entolkiened great-grandfather for 90% of his screen time. He may not light up the screen when he’s discussing his passionate love for Drayton’s aunt. He may have to say things like “When the Druid Sleep calls, there’s no time for goodbyes.” But the man has charisma in spades and all those years on Spartacus means he can twat a CGI demon with a sword with the best of them.

I watched the first two episodes with initial dread; afterwards, I instantly rushed to watch the next episode with excitement and I’m off to watch episode four later. I’m no fantasy fan and The Shannara Chronicles is laughable stuff, but my gods is it fun to watch. Recommended.


  • 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.

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