In January of 2016 MTV tried something completely out of its wheelhouse. It dove into an original scripted series with it’s fantasy series The Shannara Chronicles.
Original scripted material isn’t really a new thing, but this particular series has two interesting things about it that made it surprising that MTV jumped in. First, it is fantasy. High fantasy. The original source material was written in the 1970’s by author Terry Brooks. It appeals to a niche market at best. Secondly, it was clearly expensive to produce. That’s a risk for a station like MTV.
When the series first launched our resident Terry Brooks experts, Pete Herr and Jeff Pawlak, produced a couple of videos, one before the season and then a mid-season reaction to the series. Because of scheduling conflicts and other material, they never offered their final thoughts on the first series. Now that the second season of Shannara has been announced, they’ll offer their last thoughts on the first season and some predictions for the second season here.
First Season Wrap:
I enjoyed the bookends of season one for The Shannara Chronicles; the opening episode did a good job of establishing the world of the Four Lands and the threat of the demon army that was to come, while the season finale featured plenty of rousing action and dramatic encounters that was sorely missed throughout the previous episodes. Everything in between struggled to capture my interest. I simply didn’t get a sense of adventure from the quest to find the Bloodfire and renew the Ellcrys. We were told that we had this army of demons and other foul creatures amassing at the Hoare Flats, yet, up until the final episode, we hardly caught any glimpses of them, aside from a couple of Furies and the Dagda Mor’s main lackeys, the Changeling and the Reaper. The Elfstones of Shannara book showcased a sizable roster of different creatures and adversaries that the heroes came in contact with for a variety of action sequences, yet the action in the show was painfully brief and just plain uninspired. When a novel’s action is more exhilarating than a high-budget television show’s, you’re doing something very wrong.
It didn’t help that a wealth of time they had available thanks to the dearth of action was often used for poorly-written romance, melodrama, and gratuitously-explicit content that were clearly inserted in a weak attempt to appeal to a young-adult audience. My eyes darn-near rolled out of my skull when Eretria made sexual advances on Amberle—it added nothing to the story, it was simply there for shock value. The same for several moments of unnecessary gore, and an attempted rape that almost made me quit watching the show altogether. None of this edgy material was in the novel, which made the novel a great story for adults, young adults, and even tweens. This show took that wide appeal and narrowed it down to a television series that was clearly intended for people who would never give high fantasy a chance if it wasn’t on MTV.
In the end, I mostly loved the series. Throughout our video podcasts, I maintained that I loved it. It wasn’t strictly based on the original source material The Elstones of Shannara which was the 2nd book in Terry Brooks original trilogy.
I said from the very first trailer that I thought the show was cinematically brilliant. The settings and costumes were both spectacular. And while I thought it was well-cast, I thought that Austin Butler’s version of Wil Olmsford was kind of based on a dopey dog. He slept with both Amberle and Eretria, where those relationships were much different in the books. It was, however, kind of what MTV has become these days. That wasn’t the only source material that was blown up. The gnome tracker, Slanter wasn’t in the Elfstones book. He was in the third book in the trilogy, The Wishsong of Shannara. Lots of other things didn’t hold true to the source material either. Big deal, right? Well, it makes the next installment interesting, and I am not sure which direction Executive Producer Jon Favreau will/can go.
Some decisions I absolutely did not enjoy, like the introduction of electricity and guns. I suppose that decision is easier when you don’t know if this is a one season show. One of the charms of the Four Lands of Brooks original trilogy is that it is very far removed from the Earth we live in now. Favreau’s Four Lands were not so far removed. The wreckage of old cars and buildings was cool. Guns and electricity, not so much.
Still, I give the series an enjoyable rating. Maybe an 8 of 10 if I was scoring it.
I just can’t find myself getting excited for season two. Even though it seems unlikely to be based on another book, and thus will avoid my scorn for tarnishing another of author Terry Brooks’ marvelous novels, it’s all-but assured that this sophomore season will try the same, unnecessary tactics to appeal to the MTV audience. I want a sprawling journey that shows us the rich, detailed world that made up the Four Lands from Brooks’ novels; I could care less about another soap-opera within a high fantasy setting that grabs your attention more so from stomach-churning moments than actual emotion.
That said, I’ll give it a chance. Season one of The Shannara Chronicles had great production values and was at least nice to look at. Occasionally, it was thrilling to look at. Maybe after a season of experience creating the Four Lands on set, the production crew will step up their game and give us even more awe-inspiring imagery, and superior action. Maybe telling a brand new story—one not based on a Brooks novel—will loosen up the writers and lead them to writing a better narrative than what the first season attempted. There is still loads of potential here.
I just won’t be sitting down to watch it with the same eagerness that I had to start season one.
I was excited as hell at the announcement of season 2. I’ll be interested to see which way they go with it. One of the real charms of Brooks original trilogy was that there is a real chunk of time between each book. Because of that, it is an entirely new set of characters in each book, with the exception of Allanon and a few supporting characters, like King Eventine Elessedil.
While The Shannara Chronicles first season did end similarly to the Elfstones book with Amberle becoming the Ellcrys and reinstating The Forbidding that banishes the demons from the Four Lands, the creative team did take some liberties that make it improbable that they will follow the next book in the trilogy.
In Brooks book three, The Wishsong of Shannara the main protagonists are Jair and Brin Ohmsford, the teenage son and daughter of Wil and Eretria. In the end of The Shannara Chronicles, Eretria had sacrificed herself so that Wil and Amberle could escape from the trolls. It set up a nice ending in which Wil could head back to rescue her, but it also led me to believe that there is more story to tell of the young Wil and Eretria, that we are not jumping 20 years into the future. Like I said earlier, the charm of the books, the years between and the new cast of characters, may not be possible based on the model that TV uses. Don’t get me wrong, I’d like to see more of Austin Butler as Wil and Ivana Baquero as Eretria, but I like the Wishsong story line, as well.
I am, of course, assuming that Manu Bennett will return as Allanon. I wasn’t at all sure when I saw the original casting, but I really liked his portrayal.
Overall, I thought season one was a great success, and I am really looking forward to season two. I am hopeful that they use some of the original source material for the story arc, but not confident that they won’t head off in a new direction. The character Bandon, played by Marcus Vanco, was not in the original books, however they clearly set him up to potentially be the big bad villain in the next season. The beauty of high-fantasy is that anything is possible, so who knows which direction they will head. Perhaps an adaptation of some more of Brooks original stories, perhaps a whole new direction altogether. Even if it is just a continuation of the story of Wil and Eretria, Executive Producer Jon Favreau can clearly be trusted with this story.
Pete and Jeff’s Shannara Video:
The Geekiverse Show Episode 20 – Shannara Before and After Episode 1.