When you’re an actor like Jason Momoa who is 6’4″, jacked, pierced, tattooed, and have an abundance of charisma to go with your physical attributes, it’s a double-edged sword. On the one hand, you make an impression in every room you enter, and when you’re right for a part, you’re incredibly right for it. But the number of roles tailor made for a magnetic, multi-ethnic giant are few and far between, which is why Momoa’s had an uneven career in the years since his time on Game of Thrones as warrior king Khal Drogo came to an end.
He played Conan the Barbarian in an unloved movie reboot, was the quietly menacing highlight of Sundance’s sleepy, short-lived drama The Red Road, and had a 3-second cameo as Aquaman in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. The latter role will, of course, be beefed up in Justice League, and even more in an Aquaman solo film, but that still leaves Momoa with lots of downtime, and few tailor-made roles, when he’s not playing the King of Atlantis.
So you can’t necessarily blame Momoa for squinting at the script for Frontier — a Canadian historical drama (and co-production with Discovery Channel Canada) that debuts on Netflix on Friday (I’ve seen the first two episodes) — and seeing a potential fit in Declan Harp, the half-Irish, half-Native American 18th century fur trader at the center of most of the show’s plotting. As Harp, Momoa gets to wear a long coat, work with knives, intimidate everyone he meets and otherwise dominate the action.
The problem is that, as with The Red Road, Momoa dominates the material, and most of his co-stars, too much, through no fault of his own. Harp is so much more interesting than everyone else on screen that it’s hard to blame the creative team (which includes San Andreas director Brad Peyton, and writers Rob and Peter Blackie) for treating him nearly the way Homer Simpson wanted the Itchy & Scratchy writers to treat Poochie: “Whenever Poochie’s not on-screen, all the other characters should be asking, ‘Where’s Poochie?'” There are occasionally conversations that have nothing to do with Harp, and they’re generally to the show’s detriment. Momoa has a few brief appearances in the debut episode, which has to introduce a host of other characters — notably Alun Armstrong as Lord Benton, the imperious, Harp-hating local representative of the Hudson Bay Company; Landon Liboiron (alum of Netflix’s Hemlock Grove) as Michael Smyth, an Irish stowaway forced by Benton to infiltrate Harp’s gang; Zahn McClarnon (so great in Fargo season 2, struggling to do more with less here) as Harp’s sidekick Samoset (Zahn McClarnon; Christian McKay as shady, drunken priest Father Coffin; and Zoe Boyle as local barkeep Grace Emberly — and establish their positions vis a vis both Harp and the beaver pelt trade as a whole, and the hour suffers for his long absences.