Wednesday, September 16, 2015

FX’s The Bastard Executioner review

by Melissa Parkin 

Right off the tail end of Sons of Anarchy’s series finale, showrunner Kurt Sutter wastes no time taking control of the conn in his next FX project. Carnage, swordplay, nudity, and revenge rule the screen with 14th century Wales serving as the backdrop. Considering the man made murderous, gunrunning bikers likable, if not lovable, the tale of a wronged knight set out on a mission of rightful vengeance has all the ingredients to become an instant winner.

So why am I not impressed?

Though the late biker series gives Sutter undeniable clout to do as he pleases, Sons’  legacy casts a large shadow on anything the show’s creator would tackle thereafter–especially on his very next project. SOA can easily be called a 21st century classic, with its Shakespearean undertones, rich dialogue, dark story-lines, an amazing, ensemble cast of character actors, and a magnetizing lead. Sutter seems to have abandoned this dynamite formula though for every cliché found in similarly toned projects. 

The Bastard Executioner centers on former knight Wilkin Brattle (played by newcomer Lee Jones) who has chosen to live quietly with his wife in the farmlands of Wales after being emotionally and physically scarred by the horrors of war. Forced into fighting, in local rebellions against the hypersensitive Baron Ventris, Wilkin and his gang of bandits become public enemies. As a result, tragedy strikes, forcing Wilkin to assume the identity of a slain traveling executioner to exact his revenge against the men who wronged him.

That single paragraph sums up the entirety of the full two-hour pilot episode. Does it sound a bit padded for its run-time? That’s because it is. Not until the last fifteen minutes or so does the show finally grab your attention. The rest seems to be a test on our patience and ability to digest overused tropes. Giving the creative nature of Sons, it’s easy to get one’s hopes high before viewing Bastard. We expect those tropes to be twisted and turned over on their heads into something that we’ve never seen before. We expect brilliant characters that we immediately take a liking to, whether they be hero or villain. We expect the show’s execution to match the creator’s reputation.

And we get…none of that. 

For anyone remotely familiar to this genre, you’ll predict every single event at least two steps before it unfolds on screen. The story borrows all too by and large from Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood and Mel Gibson’s Braveheart. Newcomer Lee Jones has all the physical attributes to be a leading man, but his performance doesn’t evoke the same poignancy as Charlie Hunnam did. The rest of the cast isn’t particularly memorable either with the exception of Katey Sagal and Stephen Moyer, who appear to be playing caricatures of their characters. There’s virtually no levity in the script to uplift the constant grim atmosphere. Most disappointing of all is the key lack of character development. No matter how gritty and stylized the show may be, nothing substitutes character. Similar shows—like Ken Follett’s Pillars of the Earth and Michael Hirst’s Vikings—established themselves from the get-go with authenticity and well-crafted characters, making their stories worth devouring. Despite high hopes, Bastard’s premiere episode sadly reads as nothing more than an uninventive knockoff.



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