Ate Bit Recommends: The Shannara Chronicles

A new fantasy television show which shares similar styles to Lord of the Rings but based in a distant future? Sign me up...

Thousands of years after mankind’s fallen to an apocalyptic occurrence, The Four Lands have risen to take its place. Once an area inhabited by great magic, the people of the lands – including elves, humans, trolls and variations there within – live peacefully following the end of a great civil war. However, all of it’s about to be threatened by the rise of an evil force set on revenge and the destruction of everything the Lands hold dear… but a chosen few might just have the power to stop it.

Of course the first comparison one seeks to draw with a show like Shannara is to that of HBO’s Game of Thrones, which essentially set the bar for fantasy on television. However, while Shannara appears like another small screen Lord of the Rings in its marketing, its premise and actual presentation make it much more akin to the likes of Star Wars. Yes, the show features elves and trolls, but it also features characters that speak as if they live in 2015 (because the show’s present is actually our future), and through this one fact, everything about it becomes much more palatable for general audiences that may not have much of a liking for hardcore fantasy world building.

Star Wars is a sci-fi/fantasy cross-genre series that leans more towards science fiction than fantasy. In fact, part of why the prequels’ “explanation” of the force was so insulting was because it took the series’ fantasy element and tried to turn it into something quantifiable and scientific, which goes against the franchise’s remixed origins. In that vein is where Shannara operates, except its ratio of sci-fi to fantasy works in reverse. In this franchise, magical, non-quantifiable elements are in much greater abundance than that of the things that have grounded explanation. But, beyond that one drastic shift, the two properties operate with very similar themes and structures that feature reluctant turned accepting heroes, aged mentors that offer knowledge and weaponry to their protégés and a world threatened by an ancient evil that hasn’t been seen for thousands of years. So, while one may want to call Shannara the next Game of Thrones (which is a fair statement), it makes much more sense to call it the next Star Wars; or at the very least a lesser version possessing similar traits and qualities.

But how does the show stack-up post-pilot, you may be wondering. Can MTV really keep the series’ high production value going once the budget’s been trimmed to much more reasonable numbers? Thus far, the show’s proven to know when it needs to go big, and when it needs to go small. Money’s stretched, but not in noticeable way. Ultimately, what the network’s delivered is something that contains a world with practical weight and depth – which is, in fact, the biggest reason why audiences have always been so receptive to the likes of Game of Thrones and less so to that of cheap feeling Syfy series such as Defiance.

From the first scene of its pilot, The Shannara Chronicles sets itself apart from the pack and makes it clear that this is going to be unlike any magical fantasy series we’ve seen before. Coupled with a quality cast mixing fresh faced unknown actors (Poppy Drayton and Austin Butler) along with a few cult heroes (John Rhys-Davis who portrayed Gimli in LOTR and Manu Bennett from Spartacus, The Hobbit and Arrow fame)  Shannara is surpremely accessible to audiences. 

Even if the series is nothing more than a gateway drug to the likes of heavier fantasy, it will still go down as one of the first great new shows of 2016 and one of the best new shows of the 2015/2016 television season.

Brendan White

The man behind Ate Bit, part time slacker, full time dork with a love for all things pop culture. 1/3 of the infamous Hungry Gamers, destroyer of burgers and player of video games.

Find him on Xbox Live, PSN, Twitter and Instagram via @brendanatebit