Someone asked me recently about what my favourite films and TV of 2017 have been, and let me tell you, that’s not an easy trophy to give out to just one film and one TV show. I did eventually manage to name a favourite TV show (Legion) in the end, but there was one show that stuck in my brain, crying out to be recognised, that I couldn’t quite bring myself to name as my favourite. And that show is The Shannara Chronicles.
**SPOILER FREE POST**
I have talked a bit about The Shannara Chronicles before, in one spoiler-heavy post from season 1, (where there’s also a brief synopsis of the overall concept if you’re interested) but there’s more to be said now that season 2 is on in the UK. It’s a fantasy series, based on an epic series of books (and epic is the only word for it, when you count up over 20 books set in Shannara!) by Terry Brooks. It’s big and bold, and I am completely hooked by it. It’s not all good though – the show is a bit crap in places, and doesn’t do the best job of hiding that fact. Yet somehow, that’s part of its charm! Hence, it gets the title of ‘guilty pleasure’ TV. I couldn’t name it as my favourite more out of principle than anything else, but it’s definitely up there in my top 5. And I’ve been itching to do a commentary on it. Who knows, maybe it’ll even persuade you to give it a shot?
Our main character Wil Ohmsford (Austin Butler) has had himself haircut since season 1… and that’s about all that’s new for him. He still continues to care too much, which is such a classic hero ‘fault’. However, it does prove for an interesting dynamic between Wil and Allanon (Manu Bennett), who’s all about the greater good – it means we don’t always side with one against the other, and it makes Allanon in particular a more nuanced character than the standard ‘mentor’ stereotype. Other returning characters that deserve mentioning are: Eretria (Ivana Baquero), who is just as much of a badass as always, and has her own character arc this season; and Ander (Aaron Jakubenko), who is the king the elves deserved… he’s kind, he’s beautiful, but god is he an idiot.
And in season 2 there’s a host of new female characters we’re introduced to. First up is Lyria (Vanessa Morgan), who we first meet alongside Eretria. But now 7 episodes in, I can’t help but wonder how great Lyria really is a character. She’s a well-intentioned character, but has ended up more like a token, as a result of not doing an awful lot off her own back. Queen of the human kingdom, Tamlin (Caroline Chikezie), doesn’t have these same issues. She’s motivated, she’s ruthless, she makes decisions for herself (albeit not always great ones), but I still don’t like her. She’s dull. Though she is supposed to come across as firm, and ambiguous in her motives, the acting only seems flat and uninspired, which is a shame. BUT, it’s not all bad. Enter, Mareth (Malese Jow). She’s determined, driven, talented, quick, and she does things. Mareth is easily the best addition to the cast for season 2. She passes the test laid out in this article about creating strong female characters that are worthy of the title: What Is Trinity Syndrome?
But I told you that this show can be a bit crap at times. And unfortunately, some of its imperfections poke through in the story of season 2. Where season 1 was based on The Elfstones of Shannara, this time around it’s loosely based on the following book, The Wishsong of Shannara – only loosely because the actual book is set years after the previous book, following the next generation of Shannara inhabitants. And maybe this is where the small issues lie.
The story just seems less solid than it was in the previous season. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad for the exclusion of the love triangle element now (sorry Poppy Drayton but you’re not overly missed here), but the actual plot seems to meander. The mighty villain of the season, the Warlock Lord, doesn’t come into the fray until episode 7 which feels veeeery late. I mean, we knew that he’d be summoned eventually, because he’s all anyone is going on about: just how dangerous that guy is. The last couple of episodes have been a bit filler, so that we don’t arrive at the final boss too quickly. And because of that, it doesn’t feel like we’ve had that many meaningful victories. There’s just been lots of searching for artefacts, and then losing them again. Although, we have had some genuinely tense sequences where we thought some characters might not make it to the next episode. That’s one thing Shannara does do well.
There are numerous things Shannara does well though. It’s great at weaving multiple stories into a single tapestry, it has the most amazing production design, and the styling of the characters is gorgeous, plus it’s excellent at ending each episode on a cliffhanger that makes you demand more. There are things I’ve enjoyed more about season 2, but there are still some moments where the imperfections of the show are visible. It’s gripping, it doesn’t hide from its influences, and it’s right up my street, but it’s not perfect. And that is exactly why I’ve labelled it as my guilty pleasure TV.