Tuesday, November 4, 2008

First Impressions: Legend of the Seeker


Okay, so Sam Raimi and Robert Tapert - creators of "Hercules: The Legendary Journeys" and the infinitely superior "Xena: Warrior Princess" - have returned to television with a new series, an adaptation of Terry Goodkind's fantasy novel series "The Sword of Truth" (which I've never read). I saw the 90-minute pilot earlier today, and it left me with some mixed feelings.

Let's start with the superb visuals: this series looks stunning. Leading man Craig Horner is gorgeous (I like to think that bit of casting is Raimi's way of apologizing for seven years of shirtless Kevin Sorbo, which the years - and Paul Telfer's gratuitous skin shots in the later miniseries - have mercifully obliterated from my memory), and Bridget Regan's ethereal appearance goes a long way in selling those moments when she uses bad juju on people. As for Craig Parker, hell, I always thought Haldir was evil anyway. The action sequences have a tendency to overuse slow-motion, but they're still well-coordinated, without any of the blatantly impossible feats that eventually became mainstays of both "Xena" and "Hercules".

And yet... and yet. Mind you, I'm basing this opinion on the 90-minute pilot (which you probably guessed from the whole First Impressions thing), but as fantasy fare goes, "Legend of the Seeker" is rather formulaic. You've got your evil warlord, and a prophecy saying he'll be overthrown by a champion - said champion turns out to be a simple, down-to-earth guy with modest ambitions. Bad stuff happens, he accepts his destiny from a wizard with a ludicrous name (in this case, Zeddicus Zul Zorander), and everyone - seriously, everyone - constantly reaffirms his identity as the Chosen One until he finally "gets it" and follows through with an obligatory butt-kicking action scene. TV Tropes is going to have a field day categorizing this one.

And therein lies the problem: I've seen this exact sequence play itself out at least a dozen times in fiction. Raimi and Tapert haven't brought anything new to the table, there's no twist, no innovation that makes the stale old conventions at least seem fresh. Now, being formulaic isn't the same as being bad; after all, tropes become cliches partly because they work. But on the other hand, I don't know how happy Raimi would be to learn that I successfully predicted every single development in the episode - George's death, Richard being the Seeker, Zed's instant recovery from near-death, the hint of romance between Richard and Kahlen... hell, I'd bet good money that the evil warlord is Richard's father, just because the Darth Vader scenario is about the only cliche this show didn't tap in its debut.

Ultimately, it's hard for me to imagine staying invested in a series that's utterly incapable of surprising me - the eye-candy's nice, but I didn't chain myself to the TARDIS for David Tennant, and "Lost" is still teeming with cuties, so clearly The Pretty isn't enough. I'll stick around for a few more episodes, get a firmer sense of where this show is going... but my expectations have dropped a few hundred notches.