MTV clearly has ambitions to become the next CW Network, and its choice for the latest young adult focused series is sure to bring in viewers of shows like The Vampire Diaries, Stitchers, Smallville, and The Flash. It’s The Shannara Chronicles, a classic fantasy world series based on the Terry Brooks series of novels and specifically The Elfstones of Shannara. The two-hour premiere aired Tuesday night and revealed an incredibly rich set of film locations and environments to create a world ruled by Elves in a future Earth in the area of what was once the Pacific Northwest (the show opening reveals an ancient ruin that was once the Seattle Space Needle). Humans, dwarves, gnomes, and trolls–all the fantasy races you’d expect in a good fantasy series can be found here.
A single tree guarded by the Elves is said to keep the Demons from re-entering the world. Some say this is just a myth. But the tree has now become sick, and a young Elf woman, her grandfather the Elfking, a Druid, and his apprentice must convince everyone the story is not just a myth as they attempt to save the tree, or allow the unspeakable evil to be unleashed. It’s Terry Brooks, not George R.R. Martin, so expect quick-paced action (the story races forward so you’ve no time to get bored), less melodrama and long dialogue, and a more youthful cast.
With a production led in part by popular executive producer Jon Favreau (Iron Man, Elf), the cast is also quite impressive. Bringing gravitas and legitimacy to the series is John Rhys-Davies (Lord of the Rings, Raiders of the Lost Ark) as the Elfking, Manu Bennett (The Hobbit, Arrow) as a Druid human, and James Remar (The X-Files, Battlestar Galactica, The Legend of Korra, Django Unchained) as head of the Rovers.
The young members of the cast show some promise, too, beginning with Pan’s Labyrinth star Ivana Baquero as the second female lead Eretria, Austin Butler (Arrow) as Wil, the naïve padawan of the Druid who possesses three rare Elfstones, and Poppy Drayton (Downton Abbey, Father Brown) as the show’s burgeoning warrior, a “Chosen” heroine named Amberle.
With a series opener, you never quite know whether you can predict a series’ success, but the show has the hallmarks of a quality B-level fantasy series. It feels very familiar, like bits and pieces of several series that ended up to be watchable enough, including Defiance, Legend of the Seeker, and the BBC’s Robin Hood. It, of course, borrows plenty in its art direction, costumes, and props from Peter Jackson’s Tolkien movies, although it reflects a smaller budgeted copy. Its scope is similar to ambitious fantasy projects like Dune, Vikings, and The Chronicles of Riddick. All the tropes of a fantasy spectacle are present, from a young heroine looking afar atop a tall ancient monument, to a horseback quest through forests, a Lord of the Rings inspired Elven community of attractive young actors and actresses with the requisite prosthetic ears, a conflict of magic, a realm of evil and grotesque monsters, and plenty of elaborate garb for all (some good, like Rhys-Davies’ excellent kingly ensemble, some less inspired, like Amberle’s Elven dresses).
The bottom line is that it all adds up to some good fun, and worthy of a try for a few weeks to see if this rich fantasy world can keep up the momentum it needs to survive. Check out The Shannara Chronicles Tuesday nights at 9 p.m. Central. Download the show’s app for an early look at the next two episodes. Get caught up on the books here at Amazon.com.