‘The Shannara Chronicles’ struggles to give girls a kickass role model

01.04.16 2 years ago

While some people may wonder if MTV really can pull off creating a show for fans based on Terry Brooks' Shannara series – while also pulling in new viewers not familiar with the source material – my reaction to the first four episodes of “The Shannara Chronicles” was decidedly positive. I think the show has a lot going for it and, as I said in a recent review, I definitely recommend it.

I do however have one issue that's been stuck in my head and since it refuses to go away, here I am.

“Shannara” hopes to be a show that appeals both to fantasy and female fans. Producer and creator Al Gough says they decided to bypass much of “The Sword of Shannara” to get into “Elfstones” because he and partner Miles Millar feel the characters of Wil, Amberle, and Eretria are more relatable for teens. They also want to play up the love triangle dynamic a bit more. As Gough told USA Today:

“[‘Elfstones of Shannara” was] ahead of its time. Amberle is an Elven princess, but she's not of the Disney ilk. [Amberle, Wil, and Eretria”s] biggest obstacles aren't necessarily the demons they're trying to stop – it's each other and these other threats that loom out there.”

These changes have been done with Brooks' blessing, who told NY Daily News “There are deviations from the books, but deviations are OK – all I told them (producers) was, 'just don't screw over the story.”

I can understand the reason for the choice, especially given the audience. Gough also said that he wants to focus on kickass female characters and their portrayal in media. Considering that Millar and Gough are the team behind AMC's breakout (and awesome) series “Into the Badlands”, I don't doubt his sincerity for a second.

I do however, worry that Amberle spends a little too much time looking pained, stricken, scared, or crying.

Now, it may well be that Amberle is as emotional in the books as she is in the show, but I had a hard time reconciling the sort of girl who would defy tradition to win a chance at being one of the Chosen – and who's willing to fight to do so – with the girl who gets scared or emotional about every 10 minutes. Poppy Drayton plays tough, but any steel her character may have seems to melt…a lot. I also caught her dry-eyed during a scene she was supposed to be crying in and I felt bad that she didn't get a choice to actually be dry-eyed and stoic.

My sense is that Amberle is supposed to be a strong character with moments of fear or weakness, but it feels the other way around. I'd love to see her be a bit more self-possessed. She doesn't need to be Katniss Everdeen, but, let's just say I'd like to see a little more Widow steel in Amberle. That said, she's earnest and likable, as is Austin Butler as Wil Ohmsford. Ivana Baquero's Eretria is a little one note, but she plays the note well. If I have a favorite moment, it's one that involves no dialogue, but one hell of quick fighting maneuver that gives me hope for more fight scenes down the road. I look forward to watching them evolve.

In the end, I think all of the elements are there and I think everyone wants to make this world and the characters as interesting as possible. It's not easy to make a show that appeals to fans and non-fans alike when you're talking about a world as fleshed out as Shannara –– but I think this show has it's heart in the right place.

Most importantly, it's a geek show on MTV. That's pretty damn awesome, if you ask me. What do you guys think? If you”ve read the books, do the characters live up to your expectations? Non-book readers, did you enjoy your first taste of the Four Lands?

“The Shannara Chronicles” airs on MTV Tuesdays at 10/9c.

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