'Shadow And Bone' Season 1 Review
Every year like clockwork there will arrive a new fantasy television series based on existing property that will feed your Harry Potter/Lord Of The Rings/whatever appetite and this year Shadow And Bone is attempting to be just that, coming from the same streamer in Netflix which brought you 'The Witcher' previously for same purpose. Like established in Leigh Bardugo's novels, you're introduced to an army cartographer Alina Starkov (played by Jessie Mei Li) who discovers herself to be a Grisha (a witch of sorts) when sailing through a dark and dangerous sea called Shadow Fold with her troops and her best friend Mal (Archie Renaux). During events after that, she is rescued by General Kirigan (Ben Barnes), a Grisha who leads another army, he then takes Alina to his care as her rare type of Grisha might be they key to destroy the Fold if she can learn to control her powers. There's an ambitious scope that the show tries to handle which fuels much of its interesting plot points and while that is more than admirable, it isn't always matched with the same effort when it comes to cohesion.
Those plot points aren't just about Alina and her encounters with Mal or Kirigan either but we start from three different places, there's a trio of thieving gang members - Kaz (Freddy Carter), Inej (Amita Suman) and Jesper (Kit Young) who are approached to kidnap Alina whom Mal is trying to find too again. Then there are also the Grisha Nina (Danielle Galligan) and her capturer Matthias (Calahan Skogman) who find themselves in a sea accident. The latter two are a bit awkwardly thrown in to the story as the payoff isn't really satisfying but the trio of thieves bring a lot of needed fun into the show, notably Young is a true scene-stealer with plenty of charm. That supporting cast is in fact really well cast (though I haven't read the source material) and they're all solid but the myriad of mysteries to which the story is built around carries much of the show and will keep you invested enough while the costume design by Wendy Partridge is really the show's peak as far as the craft of it all goes.
It's not often that you see so much discrepancy between costumes and production design because they are so inherently linked but the latter is just distractingly underwhelming considering the scope. Nothing strikes as unique or even clever, mostly you just feel the soundstage which should never be the case for anything fantasy. Similarly you feel that disconnect with constantly shifting editing styles from episode to episode, largely in the worst ones which are four, five and the finale. There's a big drop in quality from three to four from which the show never really recovers from while the finale is where you really smell the soundstage since the blocking, the VFX and the camera framing just seem off. That's truly a bummer because at that point you've become invested in Li's performance and her character which was a rocky road in itself. She and Renaux have an undeniable screen chemistry which you don't get enough of while the scenes with Barnes are rather dreadful. It's actually quite sad how Barnes' only job is to raise his chin and stare dramatically (that's a deadly drinking game if you're up for it) because the character is supposed to be important.
Smileys: Costume design, atmosphere, Kit Young
Frowneys: Production design, editing
Hopefully this doesn't inspire kids to learn gun twirling as much as 'The Queen's Gambit' inspired them to play chess.