The Shannara Chronicles is a fantasy TV series on MTV, that’s adapted from the best-selling fantasy book series by Terry Brooks. The synopsis says, “Set thousands of years in the future, the story follows three heroes, Elf-Human hybrid Wil, Elvin Princess Amberle, and Human Rover Eretria, as they embark on a quest to stop an evil Demon army from destroying the world.”
Several online articles have compared The Shannara Chronicles to Lord of the Rings, or Star Wars, or Game of Thrones. Those comparisons are just, only when you consider that most fantasy or sci fi stories contain similar elements — a hero (or heroine) who has undiscovered powers, a sacred place, an epic war between the forces of good and evil. But really, The Shannara Chronicles is its own brand of fantasy.
One of the reasons, I think, that The Shannara Chronicles is generating buzz and earning healthy ratings is that right now, in the United States, there is an absolute dearth of good, genre TV on. Marvel’s Jessica Jones is all binged out. Marvel’s Agent Carter has yet to start. Most other hit series — Once Upon a Time, Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., The Flash, Arrow — are on hiatus. And Game of Thrones isn’t back on until April. So, The Shannara Chronicles is filling in the gap left by so many other shows, offering ten new episodes just when fans are winding down after the holidays, snuggling on the couch, and looking for something to help them escape their daily drudgery.
The Shannara Chronicles intrigued me from the start, although I couldn’t put my finger on why. The writing isn’t stellar; the acting isn’t awards-worthy; the story isn’t terribly compelling. However, each of those elements has a special something that, when combined, creates a fantasy TV series that’s very engaging.
While the writing isn’t pithy or prosaic, it’s fast-paced and succinct. Not a lot of time is wasted on exposition; you’re expected to keep up and fill in the blanks as you go. I like that. I like a TV series that expects me to be smart enough to keep watching and piece together a character’s backstory from their interaction with other characters.
The actors are gorgeous. I mean, gorgeous. And they get the job done. There’s a special style of acting that’s required in any kind of genre film or TV series. These young lads and lasses are just good enough to pull it off, and so gorgeous that you’re not really dismayed if there are too many facial tics, or a complete lack of expression.
A couple of veterans star in The Shannara Chronicles, including John Rhys-Davies (Lord of the Rings trilogy, Indiana Jones) and Manu Bennett (Azog in The Hobbit movies, Slade Wilson on Arrow). They chew enough scenery to keep the young’uns grounded. (Manu Bennett annoys me just a bit, but I think that’s because I watched him fall apart as Slade Wilson). As I said above, however, the writing moves along so there’s not much time for any one actor to dwell overly long on their lines.
The one stand-out in the cast is Austin Butler, who plays Wil, the half-elf. He mixes humor and incredulity with a bravado that makes Wil unique. (He had a short run as Chase on Arrow, so he and Manu probably have a lot to chat about.)
The real star of The Shannara Chronicles is the scenery. The special effects team has created a very real world, full of color and texture. I love the establishing shots when the camera pans across acres and acres of a setting. The real-life locations match the special effects quite well, to create a very believable world.
The make-up and creature effects are also very believable. Pointed ears and scary Druid features never completely pull us out of the story, but I certainly do notice them. MTV spent a lot of money making The Shannara Chronicles look good. (If only ABC/Disney would spend that kind of money on Once Upon a Time, those cheesy green screen effects wouldn’t look so flat.)
The Shannara Chronicles, all in all, is a refreshing and much-appreciated oasis in the desert of the January TV schedule.