Shannara and Shakespeare

March 1, 2016

by Christopher Robin Negelein

SG-1 was a show that I never watched until it was repeating on a daily basis on the then Properly-Spelled-SciFi-Channel. (If you just double-checked the title of this article, hang with me here. Besides I needed more space before we hit spoiler alert territory.)

 I was surprised the show was still on with a new episode every week. I had written it off as limping  has-been TV that was on life-support since it jumped from Showtime to SciFi.  And it was all based on a one-off movie. How much content could you drag out of it? Turns out quite a bit if you’re not shy with your mythology.

Eventually, though, SG-1 lasted 10 years as a single show, something that not even a single Star Trek series had pulled off on American TV. And while ST had much better success with its own spin-offs, the Stargate franchise still had an astounding 15 year run.

In comparison, the source material for Shannara is over 20 novels and counting.

The first season of wasn’t great TV, a double sin while we are in a golden age of TV and Geekery, but over several episodes it became more watchable. Though it still has a ways to go to put “I don’t think your elf princess is going to want a human’s sloppy seconds,” in the rear view mirror.

But now we have an in-universe reason for why everyone sounds more “modern,” this is our world after some sort of hand wavy, genetic apocalypse*. (But Manu Bennett, you can still keep up the old Druid-speak in your growly voice. You’ve got that down pat.)

And the more TSC embraced its Science Fantasy premise, the more intrigued I became. I haven’t read anything from the series in decades, but I fear that Brooks probably didn’t put that much thought into his mythology beyond using it to prop up his own spin of a Tolkien fantasy world.

But just in production values alone, it looks like Millar and Gough have fleshed the Science Fantasy mythology even more — something that also worked for SG-1 as the years rolled by.

But now we go into spoiler country and why my interest has peaked after the final episode.

Last chance. Spoiler Alert.

More than half of the cast is dead, including the very first main character we met in the pilot. It was like a Shakespearean bloodbath, only with the bad guys doing most of the killing. It was so total that I wondered if the show was only a miniseries until I saw the “To Be Continued” caption before the End Credits. There was one dude, not one of the bad guys, who had to be killed twice. That’s taking one for the team.

Every long-standing genre show needs to find a way to evolve and change over time. Some were more subtle about it, like the Doctor Who, X-files and SG-1 as they expanded their mythology while others played the obvious is obvious card like ST’s and Fringe’s regular reboots. (And for anyone keeping up with the Expanse books, you know that’s already in the works for that TV show.)

But with final episode already setting up a villain and clearing the house of all the dead wood (Magic Soul Eating Tree pun intended), it shows a commitment to keeping the show fluid and adaptable over the long haul. Right now, I think the series is on the bubble.

But if it makes to Season 2, it just might be around longer than anyone expects.

*The books go for more of a 1970s hand wavy atomic armageddon.

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