Wed. Sep 27th, 2023

Fantasy shows:

There can be no disputing that fantasy TV shows are proliferating rapidly—rushing to fill the hole left by Game of Thrones (one of the most successful series of all time) (one of the most successful series of all time). The deluge of releases in the month of December underlined this phenomena, presenting a smorgasbord of new worlds for viewers to explore, with full franchises to pursue in between seasons. But in the era of binge-watching, audiences are guaranteed to devour swiftly; where does the fantasy-hungry spectator go to find more

While classic high fantasy is really just just developing:

low fantasy (fantasy that takes place in the so-called ‘real world’) has long been a television fixture. Shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Lost carried fantasy elements into the digital age, with dedicated online fanbases endlessly scrutinising and discussing both the supernatural components in their storylines and the very human stories that gave weight to their themes. This dichotomy is the foundation of fantasy, which uses supernatural or magical elements to express truths about humanity.

In more recent years:

those supernatural or magical components have taken numerous forms—blending in with monsters-of-the-moment or blasting off with fantasy’s controversial cousin, science fiction. Shows that openly embraced conventional fantasy themes were sometimes derided as ‘campy’, or shunted aside by the emergence of prestige drama. But with the genre now resurgent, those same shows have the opportunity to gain new fans and finally be appreciated.

The Librarians \sthe-librarians Cropped.

Before basic cable became the laboratory for prestige drama, TNT put out a made-for-TV movie called The Librarian, resurrecting a long-absent Noah Wylie to play as a lifetime student who accepted a job at a mythical library. The result was a blatant Indiana Jones imitation that, despite its terrible narrative and questionable production value, garnered two sequels and a minor cult following—and an eventual series. After recruiting an unlikely troupe of oddball geniuses to share the burden of protecting the magical library, The Librarians moulds its adventure elements into a caper-of-the-week format, loosely hanging some character development and serialised Big Bad plots on what is essentially a playground for classic low-fantasy setups: magical artefacts, myths-come-to-life, and (of course) Arthurian legend. The programme veers considerably towards camp, forsaking detailed world building for the more popular (and less expensive) tropes of its time: inventive setups, endearing misfits, characters from timeless literary classics.

The result feels like fantasy window shopping:

each week, a new world—a fresh perspective on a myth, a new feature of magic—is on show but not completely explored. Of course, lack of depth is not necessarily a fault; The Librarians entertains plenty with its diversity of interesting fantasy notions, without being burdened down by extended interpersonal drama or melancholy dissertations on existential sorrow. The outcome is often excellent, solid fantasy fare, with inventiveness enough to meet the interests of any fantasy enthusiast.

12 Monkeys Jennifer Goines.

Judging only by the first season, 12 Monkeys shares little-to-no DNA with The Librarians. Airing on Syfy at the cusp of the network’s post-Battlestar resurgence, the first season of 12 Monkeys, about post-apocalyptic time travellers conspiring to prevent a pandemic, presents as a gritty, character-driven genre storey, à la The Walking Dead (a juggernaut and gold standard for dark drama…at the time). There are aspects of otherworldly intrigue from the start—provided largely by a cult that intends to destroy time itself, complete with pithy watchwords and scary religious rituals—but very little distinguishes the show from a generic time travel story…at first.

Once 12 Monkeys has exhausted all conceivable time travel ideas:

though, the show leans hard into its more fantastical elements—and that is when it begins to flourish as a work of fiction. Foregrounding the story’s resident soothsayer, Jennifer Goines (Emily Hampshire, who commits marvellously to Jennifer’s zany complexity), and focusing on the time-averse cult allows the show to weave more tantalising mysteries, expanding the scope of its main quest through time and elevating the stakes of the central conflict. Shedding the harsh dramatic tone enables the already-malleable setting to incorporate more classic fantasy destinations—such as mediaeval England and the Wild West. Yet the programme makes this pivot without compromising either gravitas or storey quality: the poignant final season is one of the most rewarding ends in TV history, for both the characters and the audience.

Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency \sdirk gently Cropped.

Then there is Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency. Aside from the genre of fantasy (which can only be applied ever-so-loosely), Dirk Gently’s defies practically any attempt at categorization. It begins as a sort of low-fantasy mystery, following an assortment of vaguely-powered individuals as their paths meander around—and toward—the show’s reluctant protagonist, Todd Brotzman (Elijah Wood) (Elijah Wood). The titular investigator is one such guy, however his investigation talents and mystery powers alike seem to consist entirely of waiting for coincidences to make sense. The show expertly blends humour and fury, absurdity and violence—opposing themes bound together by a veneer of shameless whimsy. Yet it is lovely in this paradox, changing the commonplace, ‘real’ environment into a fantasy… and urging the audience to do the same. Dirk Gently’s strikes a delicate balance between zany circumstances and poignant human moments; then, in its second season, it compromises that balance by drifting into high fantasy. The show introduces Wendimoor, an alternate dimension where two families wage war under a flying train set, their soldiers armed with alarmingly-oversized scissors. Characters from Wendimoor begin to leak into the actual world, the magic of their country seeping along with them. Eventually, the riddle of this magic leads the show’s primary characters to Wendimoor—not only to solve their case, but to learn the mysteries of Dirk Gently himself and the others who are like him.

Despite the turn of the plot toward the fantastcal.

however, the show manages to remain firmly grounded in human emotion and relationships, for Wendimoor holds answers to not only the supernatural questions of the story’s plot and premise, but to the human questions that anchor its themes: how to be a ‘good’ person, how to maintain (and repair) relationships, how to find strength in times of struggle, and—perhaps most importantly—how to find purpose in the midst of self-doubt.  The show is, at its essence, very hopeful about the power of optimism. Through their common experiences, each of the main characters grapples with a sense of purposelessness. It is their friendships with each other that sustains them through these moments, until the protagonists discover that there is purpose in friendship itself. For those who might find that conclusion too sombre, the show does its best to lighten things up by hurling corgis over of a bridge, manifesting a flying purple people-eater, and allowing Elijah Wood show off his acting skills by portraying the complete gamut of human emotions…

By Adam

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