Every year like clockwork there will be a new fantasy television series based on an already existing property that will hopefully feed your magical appetite and this year Shadow And Bone is attempting to do just that with its first season. As established originally in Leigh Bardugo's series of novels called 'Shadow And Bone' and 'Six Of Crows', you're introduced to army cartographer Alina Starkov (played by Jessie Mei Li) who discovers herself to be a Grisha—which is a witch of sorts—when sailing through a dark and dangerous sea called Shadow Fold with her troops and best friend Mal (Archie Renaux), an army tracker.
After the voyage goes wrong, she is rescued by Kirigan (Ben Barnes), a Grisha and general who leads another army, who then takes Alina to his care as her rare powers might be the key to destroying the Shadow Fold if she can learn to control those powers. There's an ambitious scope that the series and showrunner Eric Heisserer try to grasp 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 instead 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 also trying to find again. Then there are also Grisha named Nina (Danielle Galligan) and her captor Matthias (Calahan Skogman) who find themselves in trouble at sea. Those two are a bit awkwardly thrown into the story as the payoff isn't really satisfying but the trio of thieves bring a lot of welcomed fun into the show, notably Young who is a true scene-stealer with plenty of charm.
That supporting cast is in fact really well cast (casting director is Suzanne M. Smith) and they're all solid performers but the myriad of mysteries which the story chases carries much of the show and will keep you sufficiently engaged while 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 (Matthew Gant, Jonathan McKinstry) because they are so inherently linked but the latter is just distractingly underwhelming considering the show's scope. Nothing strikes as unique or even clever; mostly you just feel the soundstage which should never be the case in anything that involves fantasy elements.
Similarly you feel that disconnect with editing styles (contributions from Tyler Nelson, Lisa Bromwell) that constantly shift from episode to episode, largely in the weakest 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 while the finale is where you really smell the soundstage since the blocking, VFX (supervised by Ted Rae) and angles 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 undeniable screen chemistry which you don't get enough of while her 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 his character is supposed to be important. Maybe it works better on the next page.
Smileys: Costume design, atmosphere, Kit Young
Frowneys: Production design, editing
Hopefully this doesn't inspire kids to learn gun twirling as much as another show can inspire them to play chess.