January 6, 2016

SHOWBUZZDAILY Series Premiere Review: “The Shannara Chronicles”


THE SHANNARA CHRONICLES:  Tuesday 10PM on MTV – If Nothing Else Is On…

MTV is late to the YA fantasy-adventure party with THE SHANNARA CHRONICLES, so it doesn’t have the element of surprise going for it.  There’s no innovation here, either, because while the main source material, Terry Brooks’ 1982 novel “The Elfstones of Shannara,” predates the many books, graphic novels and other series that have been adapted to big screen and small in recent years (but not Tolkien’s novels or Star Wars, to both of which it’s clearly indebted), at this point we’ve seen enough elves, trolls, warlocks, demons, magic trees, magic stones, magic books, and Chosen Ones to fill However Many Lands this particular kingdom requires.  (For Shannara, it’s four.)

Series creators Alfred Gough and Miles Millar are also the team behind Into the Badlands, and although Shannara is more teen-oriented and not quite as violent, the shows are unfortunately similar.  Gough and Millar are devoted to creating their serialized mythologies, but flounder when it comes to giving life to its inhabitants, or providing dialogue that isn’t clunky, stilted or portentous.

Shannara‘s mythology is already too dense to describe at length after just the 2-hour premiere, but its Chosen One is the spunky elf Princess Amberle (Poppy Drayton), a Leia-type who absorbs messages from the magic tree that protects the kingdom from a host of demons who will be kept captive in “The Forbidding” as long as the tree lives.  You guessed it, the tree is dying, but there’s some rigmarole about a blossom, and a seed, and a possible new tree that only the Chosen One can plant, yadda yadda.  Amberle’s Luke-ish counterpart is the half-elf Wil (Austin Butler), a callow boy who’s soon apprenticed to the show’s Obi-Wan, Druid Allanon (Manu Bennett), and given the charge of protecting the Princess.  Is there a Han Solo?  Why yes there is, the cocky thief Eretria (Ivana Baquero), who may have been an adversary of our heroes so far, but is almost certain to join the Good Guys team before long.  All of these Star Wars parallels, of course, look particularly bad in the recent context of The Force Awakens, which needless to say blows this fantasy out of the galaxy like so much Death Star fodder.

A lack of originality isn’t fatal in this genre.  All the superhero stories are variations of each other, and even Game of Thrones owes plenty of debts to the fantasies and epics that came before it.  But to make an impact in this crowded field, a new entry needs to have its own clear voice, and Shannara shows no signs of that.  A worse flaw is that the dialogue and flat acting by the young leads puts one in mind of the Dark Side of Star Wars influences:  they’re reminiscent of the dreaded prequels.  (Bennett and John Rhys-Davies provide more comfort in the main adult roles, and James Remar shows up briefly but engagingly as Eretria’s untrustworthy father.)

Under Jonathan Liebesman’s direction, the pilot’s production values are uneven.  There’s a brisk pace, and marvelous New Zealand vistas, but some of the interiors look like 1970s-era fantasy movie sets, the synthesized score is tacky when it’s trying to be epic, and the CG is generally second-rate.

Shannara is a big bet for MTV, perhaps its first series ever without any contemporary music on the soundtrack.  (The action is technically set many centuries in the future, although aside from a glimpse of a ruined helicopter, it all feels essentially medieval.)  Sadly, the network doesn’t seem to have put in the care that might have made its show stand out.  Instead, Shannara feels like just another fantasy also-ran in search of The Force.


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."