11 Dec 2014

[Review] - The Librarians, Season 1 Episodes 1 And 2, "And The Crown Of King Arthur/And The Sword In The Stone"

Courtesy of Electric Entertainment
The Librarian films, on which this series is based, are not good films. They aren't particularly well written, the acting is variable, and the effects are atrocious. They aren't blockbusters, or society changing stories of great and lasting cultural value. But, they aren't meant to be. And they know that. They are very much aware that they are made-for-cable popcorn, light entertainment. And so too is The Librarians: a low calorie snack with a pulp-serial feel. The history is suspect, the plot devices stretched to the very extent of credulity. Yet, it isn't a bad series. At least, two episodes in, it isn't bad. And the reason it doesn't fall over the line of being terrible has everything to do with it's attitude. It owns its nature. It knows that it's cheesy. It knows that it's campy. It knows that nothing it is saying and doing makes any sense. And it does it all with good humour and the occasional nudge and wink at the audience. This is the very definition of "all in good fun."

And I have no problem with that.

Hit the jump for the review, which contain spoilers that always come in pairs.

I've watched a lot of TV, and I've seen far better and I've seen far worse series than this adaption of the successful TNT franchise. Dean Devlin and John Rogers have a formula that works, that was honed over five seasons of Leverage, and they have an established franchise and tone to overlay that formula. This isn't a series that is ripe for experimentation, this is a series that is fully formed straight out of the tin. They know exactly what this series is and will be. And that sort of confidence in a television series is rare, especially straight out of the gate. Add to that the fact that, they are intentionally writing to this level, to achieve this specific level of goofiness, plays to their favour.

That's not to say there aren't weaknesses. But my usual complaints about a perceived laziness or unimaginative lapse on the writers part can be softened by knowing that they aren't looking at making something that makes 100% sense. That there can be a lapse in logic for the sake of keeping things light and brisk and from getting too bogged down in detail. take, for instance, the "crown jewels" theft scene. On the surface, that scene was all wrong. The set didn't even look like the Tower of London. On Leverage, and entire episode would have been dedicated to explaining in detail how exactly that heist would have been pulled off. On this show, that kind of detail isn't the point. So, they can handwave it away with a camera swipe and a sudden bag of jelly beans. It is a sign to the viewer that Librarians will be living more by the MST3K mantra than any adherence to reality. And because they are being obvious about it, it doesn't interfere with our suspension of disbelief.

The major weakness of this episode was the sheer amount of material the writers opted to move through, and the speed at which they did it. Part of this was the fact that they had to dispense with the characters established in the films. We can't be asking where Noah Wyle, Jane Curtain and Bob Newhart are every week, so that needed to be taken care of. We also needed to be introduced to the five new cast members, establish their personalities and internal conflicts. They also need to set up what they'll be doing week to week. And a ever present threat for them to join together to face would go amiss. That is a lot of ground to cover in 88 minutes, and while it did manage some of it well, some missed the mark. Probably the weakest was the interpersonal relationship aspect of the characters. It's serial storytelling, they didn't have to feel the need to get through so much so quickly, when we have eight more episodes in which these dynamics and motivations can be made clear.

The relationship between Flynn and Baird (Rebecca Romijn) felt particularly forced. The romantic relationship, I should clarify. Their professional relationship, the Librarian/Guardian dynamic was fairly well handled, which considering that Flynn had a time limit hanging over his head, seemed a dangerous choice. But it was about establishing enough trust that he could leave the newbies in her hands. The romantic angle, I understand was meant to be an organic side effect of this growing and mutual trust, but it was very much the opposite of that. It felt forced, and because of Wyle's regular absence, something that will be undervalued moving forward.

I'm looking forward to this show. Unlike other shows that promise big and deliver small, I feel that this series has the potential to deliver exactly what it claims, and perhaps surprise us every now and again. After Leverage, I'm at least willing to give this creative team the chance to impress me.

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