Recently I started watching three shows: HBO’s Game of Thrones, Starz’ Camelot and ABC’s Legend of the Seeker. The first two shows are in their first seasons and Legend of the Seeker, which debuted in 2008, has already been cancelled. The shows have at least three things in common: they all take place in fantasy settings, they are all based on literary material and, as I mentioned, I started watching them at the same time.
The first show, Game of Thrones, based on a series of novels by George R.R. Martin, is really good. Although it is a work of fantasy it deals with a fair amount of realism. Most of the series’ characters aren’t good guys or bad guys—they are just people with different, and often conflicting, motivations and desires. I’ll probably write more about the show (and the books) later but, for now, it is enough to say that I really like the show and I continue to watch it every week (I am also in the middle of the second book).
The second show, Camelot, is, maybe, average.[i] It is a(nother) “retelling” of Arthurian legend. Eva Green (Vesper Lynd) plays Morgan and is the best part of the show. In fact, most of the villains on the show are pretty good, such as Sinead Cusack and James Purefoy (Rome’s Marc Antony). Now, I don’t mean that in a Jimmy “What Jimmy really loved to do, what he really loved to do was steal” Conway I always root for the bad guys kinda way. Rather, I think the show borrows the Star Wars casting strategy of casting good, serious actors for the villains and hokey, over-the-top actors for the good guys.[ii] The recent film version of G.I. Joe, for instance, also employed this strategy. Watching that movie I often thought the heroes and villains thought they were in two different movies. Or, framed another way, imagine Marlon Wayans in any other film Joseph Gordon-Levitt has been in (Mysterious Skin, Inception) or, conversely, Joseph Gordon-Levitt in any other Marlon Wayans movie (White Chicks, Littleman). Often this strategy simply means casting British people for the villains and Americans for the heroes.
And Legend of the Seeker is probably terrible. There is nothing unusual about that. Some shows are good while others are bad. What is unusual is that I find myself constantly wanting to watch this show. Because there are only two seasons and because there will only be two seasons I am trying to ration the show out.[iii] The show, as the opening credits tell us each time, is based on a 1994 book by Terry Goodkind called The Sword of Truth. The only things I know about the book are that it a) inspired Seeker and b) has maybe the least creative title of a book since Book: The Book.[iv] In the interests of research, I just visited a website called Random Book Title Generator and most of the titles it produces read like The Sword of Truth. Within the first several clicks it produced “Shard of Princes,” “The Flower of the Dreams,” “The Servant of Luck” and “The Time of the Legend.” Some of the titles it produced, such as “The Moon’s Men” and “Voyager in the Nobody,” sound more compelling than The Sword of Truth. Anyway.
The first season follows the adventures of Richard, the title’s Seeker, Kahlan, a Confessor, and a wizard named Zeddicus Zu’l Zorander who, since his name is so long, most people just call “Zed.” We quickly learn that Richard is only one of many in an extensive line of Seekers who seem to be randomly chosen in a Buffy Slayer way although it is never made clear. We are told that it has been prophesized for thousands of years that the Seeker will kill Darken Rahl, the show’s villain. Now, Darken Rahl looks to be in his late-thirties. The actor who portrays Rahl, Craig Parker, was born in 1970 and looks youngish for his age. Although it is never specified this means that for thousands of years Seekers were being born with nothing to do because Darken Rahl was not yet born. In fact, even if they wanted to speed things up by killing Darken Rahl’s great-great-great-great grandparents, they would have had to, most likely, wait a few hundred years for the chance. The other option would be that each Seeker has a specific but different job they must do e.g. each one has to kill a different guy with the last name Rahl. What this means is that somewhere there is a list of all the things Seekers need to do in perpetuity—the Seekers’ To-Do List. But this doesn’t make sense either. What were all the other Seekers seeking? What if a Seeker fails to accomplish what they are prophesized to do? Does the next Seeker has to do what they are prophesized to do plus the last task that the previous Seeker failed to do? This is the first of many things about the narrative that I fail to understand.
Once it is revealed to Richard that he is in fact the Seeker, who, as far as I can tell has no special powers whatsoever, he is given a magical book (The Book of Counted Shadows) and a magical sword (The Sword of Truth). These are the rightful possessions of the Seeker, whoever that is at any point, and I guess whenever the Seeker dies someone has to cart around the Sword and book until the next Seeker is born and give him his rightful possessions as decreed by prophesy. There is nothing particularly special about the sword except that people seem to inconveniently recognize the sword wherever Richard goes causing me to frequently refer to the sword as The Sword of Inconvenient Recognition and Narrative Impetus. I guess if I think about it I have never seen Richard hone his sword so I should concede that is probably an above-average sword. And it looks kinda pretty. The book on the other hand bears more than a passing mentioning. The reason: almost as soon as Richard gets the book he burns it. That’s right. Two thousand years of Seekers and the middle men in charge of delivering the book to new Seekers protecting this book, caring for this book, maybe making sure that if anyone borrows the book they don’t break the spine because they didn’t grow up reading comic books and don’t know how to take care of things, and what does Richard do? He just burns it. He is confronted by a bunch of Rahl’s grunts and, in order to create a very brief distraction, he burns the book. Watching the scene you can’t help but wonder if he really needs to create that minor distraction to win the fight. Although I don’t think Richard has any particularly awesome powers, certainly none that should qualify his being a Seeker, I should mention that he is pretty good in a fight. But, this is just the second episode and maybe his confidence isn’t that high cause he just found out about that Seeker thing. Yet, I can’t help but think that every night before Richard goes to bed he thinks to himself, “Damn. Hindsight really is 20 paces/20 paces—I could’ve taken those guys without that stupid book trick. I wonder if it was any good.”
Kahlan’s power, like all Confessors, is to “confess” people and it only seems to work on men. Once she confesses them the briefly get black eyeballs before falling in love with her and mostly doing whatever she tells them. Some episodes she feels that it is an abuse of her power to just wantonly confess people, other episodes it seems like she is willing to confess someone just because she wants a foot rub.
Zed, the show’s wizard, seems to have two magical powers. The first, which he only does once, is the ability to remotely control the movements of a discarded sock to make a really good puppet show.[v] His second power, which everyone seems to recognize as “wizard’s fire” involves him shooting a jet of flame, typically at people. The thing is; he does it all the time. That’s right, in this trio you have the Seeker who seems to have no special powers, the confessor who makes men love her forever and the wizard who is constantly burning people alive. And I mean constantly.
The show’s creators, Sam Rami and Rob Tapert, previously worked on both Xena: Warrior Princess and Hercules: The Legendary Journeys. Although Xena was the spinoff of Hercules, it was clearly the better show and for one reason—it was aware of what it was. In fact, at times the show was quite clever. Lucy Lawless just got being Xena in a way that Kevin Sorbo never got being Hercules. Now, Tapert has gone on record as saying that in creating the Seeker he specifically wanted to avoid a 90s post-modern sensibility. So, what they have is a not so great show that thinks it is better than it is. In other words, in creating his “next” Xena, he specially removed from the Seeker the key quality that made Xena such a good show. So, when I watch the Seeker I try not to judge the actors too harshly because it seems they were told to not be that good.
The show “borrows” from many sources. For example, the Confessors, an all-female group of magic users, are very similar to Jordan’s Aes Sedai. In fact, in one episode we learn that every so often a male Confessor is born and they can’t handle the power, will probably be evil and…you know the story. But my favourite example concerns a group of red, faux-leather clad women into bondage who all carry around what seems to be a primitive version of a cattle prod. They are called the Mord-Sith. Now, reverse that—Sith Mord. Seem familiar? How about Sith Lord?—the name first given to Darth Vader in the original novelization of the first film. Spoiler Alert: The show “borrows” other things from Star Wars as well.
As of this writing, the website SaveOurSeeker.com has raised “approximately” $36 305 to do precisely what, I am not sure, except that money is somehow supposed to get a large group of people, who have probably all found new jobs, possibly moved, had children, died, etc. to make more episodes of a not-very good TV show. Their stated goal is to “promote the show by demonstrating the unity and strength of its fanbase” which reminds me of Adam Sutler’s catchphrase—“Strength through Unity. Unity through Faith.” What I find fascinating about this, and other fan campaigns such as the one that successfully resurrected both Joss Whedon and the crew of Firefly, is the strange arrogance involved. I am reminded of the negative reaction to the latest Star Wars films. Now, I too think they are terrible. However, I don’t think that George Lucas personally slighted me by making movies I don’t like as much. The difference seems to be that campaigns to put an old show back on the air insinuate that everyone else in the universe is there to do things for you. I don`t think that Jessie Disla, who worked on the show’s casting for three episodes, should drop what they are doing so they can make me happy for another hour. Or that Orlando Bassi, the show’s wigmaker for twenty-two episodes should stop making different wigs because I want him to make the wigs I want him to make. I recognise that Campbell Cooley, the loop artist, may be looping other things and that Wade Hannett, the Legend of the Seeker paint foreman, may be overseeing the painting of other things.
[i] By average I mean that it is average in quality compared to the other shows I watch.
[ii] Yes, I know Alec Guinness is an exception.
[iii] I don’t normally do this. I like to watch a season of TV in one day and I like to eat really fast.
[iv] This is not an actual title.
[v] To his credit, his puppet shows are really good.