The Shannara Chronicles might be the most ambitious scripted drama ever to air on MTV. Based on Terry Brooks’ fantasy books, it features panoramic shots of New Zealand, epic battle scenes capped off with the beheadings of evil winged beasts, and a story that involves two elves, Amberle (Poppy Drayton) and Wil (Austin Butler), who set out on a journey through the Four Lands to save a dying magical tree that protects the realm from demons. To get any more specific than that, I’d have to consult an all-knowing druid, because the plot is so insanely complicated that most of the dialogue is pure exposition, with characters either explaining what happened (“Amberle left the party upset, and you found her out here; you two got into a fight, and now she’s missing!”) or asking questions that clarify the rules of the Four Lands for viewers (“I don’t understand. If he really has escaped the Forbidding, why doesn’t he attack himself?”).
The world-building is imaginative and impressive, but the mythology is exhausting to keep up with, especially when the reward is basically just a romance-novel version of The Lord of the Rings, complete with courtly hand-kissing and sexy elfin bubble baths. I actually laughed during an arduous early death scene where Wil’s sickly mother attempts to pass her late husband’s magical elf stones on to Wil, while explaining the backstory: “I know you thought [gasping for breath] your father was crazy [gasping for breath], but he was a good man [gasping for breath]! He believed [gasping for breath] in those!” If you were dying, wouldn’t you just point to the stones and say, “Magic! Take!”? The scene requires enough energy to kill the magic for Wil’s poor mother—and for the rest of us. C