November 16, 2015

SHOWBUZZDAILY Series Premiere Review: “Into the Badlands”


INTO THE BADLANDS:  Sunday 10PM on AMC – If Nothing Else Is On…

The first 5 minutes of the pilot for INTO THE BADLANDS tell you pretty much all you need to know.  There’s an opening narration placing us in one of those post-apocalyptic, neo-western futures, the kind where “Barons” rule, aided by sworn samurai-like warriors called “Clippers” who are prohibited from using firearms, and bandits are known as “Nomads.”  A few seconds after that, we see our first array of slaughtered corpses, and mere minutes later, our hero, the Clipper Sunny (Daniel Wu), is mowing down about a dozen Nomads with his bare hands, because that’s the kind of badass he is.

If you’re hooked by those 5 minutes, Badlands may well be for you.  For the rest of us, the new AMC production created by Smallville honchos Alfred Gough and Miles Millar (loosely inspired by the Chinese story Journey To the West) will feel ponderous and trope-heavy, yet another genre adventure built out of old B-movies.  Sunny is a familiar western type, and our other lead, MK (Aramis Knight), is another kind of cliche, the story’s Chosen One, a teenager with magical killing powers that emerge whenever he bleeds.  Sunny and MK, of course, quickly bond.

Sunny is the head Clipper for his Baron Quinn (Martin Csokas, sporting a hacked beard, an opium habit and splitting headaches), while another Baron, known as The Widow (Emily Beecham), seeks MK and threatens war against Quinn.  The pilot’s dialogue includes lots of exposition, but its characters are strictly basic or worse.  The “worse” part comes when the script delves into the protagonists’ soapy personal lives:  Sunny’s girlfriend Veil (Madeleine Mantock) is at the start of a forbidden pregnancy, while Quinn, who as a Baron is permitted multiple wives, is planning to marry young Jade (Sarah Bolger), while his first wife Lydia (Orla Brady) pretends not to mind.  Lydia is also the mother of Quinn’s son Ryder (Oliver Stark), who’s the post-apocalyptic version of Don Johnson’s son on Blood & Oil.

Pilot director David Dobkin is mostly a comedy guy (his biggest hit was The Wedding Crashers, although he was probably sought for this project because he’d directed Shanghai Knights, the Jackie Chan/Owen Wilson martial arts comedy written by Gough & Millar), but there isn’t a laugh to be had here, apart from MK’s quip about the unlikeliness of Sunny’s name.  Dobkin does an OK job with the big sword-fighting set-piece battle late in the pilot, but there’s nothing here to impress anyone who’s seen House of Flying Daggers or any of the many other big-screen spectacles that either inspired or were inspired by it, and the sequence overdoes the sound effects of swords cutting through the air to an almost ludicrous extent.  None of the actors are seen to great advantage here, and although the production values are clearly higher-class, it all has something like the feel of one of Syfy’s cheap Canadian import series.

AMC has given Badlands the sweetest spot on TV, with The Walking Dead as its lead-in, and the network has only ordered 6 episodes to start, which at least should mean that things will move more quickly now that its world has been established and explained.  Even at a faster pace, though, the series has little to suggest it’s capable of grabbing our attention on its own.



About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."