Developed by: Miles Millar & Alfred Gough
Starring: Austin Butler, Ivana Baquero, Manu Bennett
Run time: 423 minutes
Before the rampant success of Game of Thrones, nobody would touch high fantasy with a barge pole, especially not on TV. It always takes one unexpected success story when it comes to genre fiction to trigger a deluge and, arguably, The Shannara Chronicles would never have found a home, first on MTV and on Spike for its second season, had A Song of Ice and Fire not been adapted and become the cultural phenomenon dominating the landscape. Terry Brooks’ saga has been going much longer than George R.R. Martin’s, with a bevy of books in its back catalogue, but sadly it does not look likely to trouble Thrones’ crown as the ruler of fantasy television.
For a start, The Shannara Chronicles, as of writing, is no more. A third season isn’t in the offing and while producers Miles Millar & Alfred Gough are shopping it around to other networks, right now it appears the promise at the end of Season Two finale ‘Blood’ that the story will continue, having ended on much more of a cliffhanger than Season One, was premature. Which makes watching Season Two a little bittersweet, in all honesty, knowing that Brooks’ saga will never fully be realised in this medium for television. Given the wealth of work in the back catalogue, The Shannara Chronicles deserves much greater longevity.
To some degree, however, perhaps cancellation on the evidence of Season Two is more of a blessing for Brooks’ series than a curse, certainly in terms of the books being realised in a manner where they will be fondly remembered. The truth is, The Shannara Chronicles is a slog of a series to plough through, and in truth there is very little to distinguish between either the first or second season. The first adapted Brooks’ book The Elfstones of Shannara while the second edges away and carries through several of the main characters from the beginning as it shades out the universe by introducing a few new ones.
Our original protagonist was Elven princess Amberle, but it’s more her half-Elf love interest Wil Ohmsford (Austin Butler) who takes the reigns for Season Two, flanked by Manu Bennett’s earnestly gruff druid Allanon, as they face another dark demonic threat against the Four Lands in the Warlock Lord, and possessed seer Bandon. There is also Eretria (Ivana Baquero), the edgy human ‘Rover’ girl who has feelings for Wil, but also here is tied up in a relationship with Lyria (Vanessa Morgan), the princess of a human Kingdom called Leah. Not that Wil is too bothered, given he becomes fairly entranced by Mareth (Malese Now), a human with a special connection to one of the characters.
This is what needs to be understood about The Shannara Chronicles: it is not TV for most 35 year old men, such as myself. This is a show made up primarily of teenagers or early twenty-somethings going through the kind of teenage angst the presumed target audience (heavily 15 year old girls) will be experiencing. Everything Wil or Eretria go through is the greatest ordeal, with their love affairs filled with passion and heartache, and none of it happens with ever the slightest bit of irony, self-effacing mockery or humour about how daft the entire thing is. In short, it’s like someone ported the mind of a teenage girl into a script. Ten times over.
I sound horrendously patronising here but, honestly, The Shannara Chronicles is so bland it might as well not even really exist. For all the special effects, magic spells, sweeping vistas, grand armies or demonic creatures flying around, there is more density inside a balloon then in Millar & Gough’s show. Both of those writers developed Smallville back in the 2000’s and there are times, when Shannara is at its most basic and rote, that it shows. Smallville was never really great television from a creative standpoint (bar the odd occasion) but from day one it understood how to combine mythology, world-building and humour into a youthful cocktail. The Shannara Chronicles does none of those things.
Yet will it appeal to audiences of the age group it’s aimed at? Almost certainly. It could also serve as a decent primer into genre television for young people who are being raised more on quick fire YouTube videos rather than watching and digesting scripted drama; it may be as deep as a puddle and often as entertaining as sitting in front of a freshly-painted wall, but The Shannara Chronicles is at least trying to tell a story. It could become a gateway into much much better television, both past, present and future. Beyond that, you wonder quite what purpose it will serve to anyone who likes substance from their television.
Maybe someday a studio will pick up the film rights and make The Shannara Chronicles into the fantasy series the books (which do have a really intriguing mythological backbone) truly deserve, because if these two seasons are all we have to go on, you may feel they have been done a disservice. Having said all this, Terry Brooks apparently feels this show captures his books well so, hey, what the hell do I know?
The Shannara Chronicles: Season 2 is now available on BluRay/DVD from StudioCanal.