TV Review: ‘The Shannara Chronicles’


When I first saw the preview for The Shannara Chronicles, I couldn’t believe that it was an MTV show. I’ll admit I’m totally a sucker for their new programming like Finding Carter and Scream. It seems like they’re stepping away from the reality television beast they birthed 23 years ago with The Real World and are opening the door for more in-depth and elaborate programming.

Based on a book series that began in the late 1970s (and was obviously inspired by The Lord of the Rings), The Shannara Chronicles begins with a gorgeous opening sequence. The landscapes created by their digital artists are stunning and again, I had to remind myself this was an MTV show. They did this right, and it appears they spent the money to make this production more than just a one season event.

The introduction of the Elves was a punch of adrenaline and a dash of mystery, starting with princess Amberle (Poppy Drayton). She’s training for The Gauntlet, an event normally reserved for male elves – think of it like The Hunger Games, with the competitors doing everything short of killing each other, while blindfolded. Amberle hid her training and ambitions to compete, shocking the rest of the population. And of course, all the dudes competing are flipping out, essentially saying, “A chick can’t do what I can do. Not cool, bro.”

Seven winners become part of The Order of The Chosen, protectors of the Ellcrys tree. Folklore says the tree holds in all the demons of the past. The Chosen watch over it because of Elven tradition, but none of them remember why they do it. It’s kinda like the Night’s Watch guarding the wall in Game of Thrones.

More mystery follows, but now with a dash of temptation as Allanon (Manu Bennett) wakes up in some frozen cave with scars all over his sexy man back. These injuries obviously mean something, but probably won’t be revealed until they can show him with his shirt off a few more times.

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I’m not kidding when I hope his shirt comes off more. My first experience with Manu was in the original Starz production of Spartacus. Lucy Lawless did many scenes with him, with barely any clothes on. I would LOVE to have been in her shoes. Since Spartacus, I’ve been drawn to anything else he’s been in. I knew I’d probably get hooked on this show purely because he plays a mythological warrior who occasionally has his shirt off. I’m definitely a human who does not mind some epic fantasy eye candy.

I’m also a big fan of the costuming in The Shannara Chronicles, especially the elves. In most fantasy films or shows, our pointy-eared friends are often dressed in white, silver or light tones, and they generally have long billowy outfits that make them seem ethereal. The Shannara race of elves is much more down to earth – I kept thinking it was like the LOTR elves got Joss Whedon, Firefly makeovers.

They do have humans of different varieties in this crazy world. We’re introduced to a half-human, half-elf named Wil (Austin Butler). His father’s craziness has overshadowed his life, and his mother is dying, which leads to the typical scenario of the deathbed promise – she gives him some Elf Stones before she dies, and alludes that there’s more to his father then he knows. He becomes an orphaned half-elf who doesn’t know anything about the world he lives in, has an ancient relic and doesn’t believe in magic. This all sounds to me like this guy’s about to be handed an epic quest and get smacked in the face with an assload of magic.

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We’re then brought back to the Elf Princess, who touches the Ellcrys tree and sees visions – one of which is so severe that she says “peace out” to her love interest guy, and says “I need to get as far away from here as I can.” Since she’s the princess everyone’s like “shit, this sucks, we need our princess back” and love interest guy is like, “I know right?” This causes everyone else to stop and go, “Most murders are committed by those closest to them – did you fucking kill her, bro?” That’s when he spills the beans about her having tree visions and they think he’s crazy because it’s all supposed to be a myth.

Next Eretria (Ivana Baquero) comes in, like an ultimate awesome super hero, saving Half-Elf Guy. ,While they’re talking there’s a helicopter in the background and Halfie comments about the humans of the past. The books were set after an atomic world war, where radiation created all new races: men, dwarves, trolls and gnomes (the elves existed long before, but came out of seclusion after they realized the world had indeed changed). I’m curious to see how the television show goes about explaining how this happened. While Half-Elf is staring longingly at the helicopter he comments that he wishes they knew more about the technology that existed back then, so it sounds like they’re going with the book’s idea that technology has been lost to the ages and magic has been rediscovered.

Back to Allanon, he shows up like a badass but immediately puts his face all romantic like by the Elf King’s. I know it’s supposed to be like a really cool old-timey greeting of respect, but it looked like they were getting ready to make out, which totally threw me off because I want to be making out with his magical manliness. Anyway, after their intimate face hug, we learn Allanon is the last of the Druids, and the king is suddenly totally weirded out because he thought all the Druids were dead. His reaction is odd, considering he was just getting ready to kiss the guy. All the younger male elves turn into total douchebags and look at Allanon like he has two heads and was getting ready to steal all their toys. And by toys, I actually mean their ladies.

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Anyway, Allanon shows up and delivers the quest to Half-Elf that we knew was coming, but also reveals more craziness that continues to show, he is the man who knows EVERYTHING – including what the hell a Shannara is. He’s the guy that’s serving up destiny on a silver platter, if only we could all be so lucky.

The princess shows up again and she’s on the road, proving that she can hold her own. I love this, because a lot of times the female character’s primary focus in a show is their romantic relationships with the men. It actually passes the Bechdel test, which measures different types of media for female-to-female interaction. If two women talk to each other about something other than a man, it passes the test. You wouldn’t think this would be a difficult thing to achieve, but female characters make up about 30% of all cast characters. Of this percentage, 1 in 6 will pass the test. The Shannara Chronicles gives us a great female lead that knows how to fight, and is capable of getting shit done as well as – if not better than – a man. She’s pretty much the kind of chick that gives the ladies a good name, plus she delivers some well deserved karma to an unanticipated asshole. I’m hoping this means she’s on the good side of the Force.

Half Elf and Allanon find their way to the lost Druid Temple, which equals more mysteriousness and magic (one of the characters actually said something about the constant mysteriousness, which made me laugh). We also learn that “magic always comes with a price.” I have a feeling this will be a theme throughout the series – use too much magic and your ass is grass.

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Overall, the first episode of The Shannara Chronicles wasn’t bad. It held my attention and I didn’t reach for my cell phone, which is pretty much how I determine how much I liked something. The ending was super annoying because it’s a major cliffhanger, so prepare yourself for wanting more. It’s a total cocktease, but it makes you want to tune in next week. I know I will.

Not Bad

Strong female-led epic fantasy adventure, set in a futuristic world of elves, gnomes, trolls, and humans, where technology has been lost but magic has been rediscovered. This show has the visual appeal of a big-budget film, with the longevity benefits of a television series.

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