Creators blaze a bloody trail in “Pretty Deadly”
MTV is getting into the fantasy drama game with “The Shannara Chronicles,” based on the novels by Terry Brooks. The 10-episode series, which premieres Tuesday at 10 p.m. ET, has been compared to “Game of Thrones” and “Lord of the Rings”; it might not be what you’d expect to see from the network that gave us “Jersey Shore.”
Then again, MTV is no stranger to switching things up. There are more than two dozen books in the long-running “Shannara” series — the first book was released in 1977, and the most recent was published last year. “The Shannara Chronicles” is adapted most heavily from the second book, “The Elfstones of Shannara,” which was released in 1982 (you know, back when the M in MTV stood for “music”).
MTV tapped Alfred Gough and Miles Millar, the duo behind “Smallville,” to give the complex Shannara universe — filled with elves, gnomes, trolls and a demon army — a modern update.
Here’s a quick primer on what to expect from the series.
The story is set in the fictional Four Lands, where a magical tree called the Ellcrys has long protected residents (mainly elves) from evil demons. An elven princess named Amberle Elessedil (Poppy Drayton) successfully runs a brutal race called the Gauntlet and becomes one of the Chosen, an order of seven elves charged with protecting the tree.
It’s soon discovered that the tree is dying — each falling leaf represents a demon that can now enter the Four Lands — and that Amberle is the key to saving it. A half-elf named Wil Ohmsford (Austin Butler), a Rover named Eretria (Ivana Baquero) and a Druid named Allanon (Manu Bennett) become a vital part of Amberle’s quest.
The better question might be why not? Given the popularity of “Game of Thrones,” it’s not surprising that the network would want to explore the fantasy genre.
“I appreciated the strong pitch that MTV made for this and how willing they were to get behind it and support it, and that’s really what I was looking for, more than anything else,” Brooks told EW in an interview last summer.
“Shannara” is reported to be MTV’s most expensive original production ever. The dialogue has clearly been written to appeal to a younger demographic and the show has a decidedly MTV soundtrack, anchored by its angsty theme song, “Until We Go Down” by Ruelle.
More than one reviewer has referenced the ridiculously good-looking cast — accessorized down to their elf ears — and Amberle’s wardrobe is a worthy rival to Khaleesi’s collection of going-out tops on “Game of Thrones.”
It’s worth noting that the series also boasts strong female characters. “To play someone who is that willing to fight, despite these social prejudices against her, was incredible and couldn’t come at a more relevant time,” Drayton told USA Today about playing Amberle.
As with almost any television show, it depends on who you ask. Entertainment Weekly says “the world-building is imaginative and impressive, but the mythology is exhausting to keep up with,” adding that “the reward is basically just a romance-novel version of ‘The Lord of the Rings.’ ”
The New York Times called the series “reasonably absorbing.” Although there are a lot of comparisons to be made in a genre that’s growing in popularity, The Times says “this show is best if not overthought.”
For the record, Brooks seems pretty happy with it. The author told EW that an adaptation had been years in the making and that he and his wife had visited the set.
“I think the adaptation is working out just as well as I could have hoped it would,” Brooks told the site.
Kelly Sue DeConnick has written enough stories to swiftly sense when a narrative isn’t going as planned. And so it was during the collaborative process for “Pretty Deadly,” when she and artist/co-creator Emma Rios decided during their first story layout that their Western tale wasn’t headed in the right direction.
“Pretty Deadly,” their joint title published by Image Comics, was intended to read like an homage to Sergio Leone’s sharpshooting spaghetti Westerns. But the creative duo, who met while working together for Marvel Comics, decided that what their new tale was missing was something otherworldly.
“There’s no real way to explain it other than the story just didn’t feel right until we embraced the mythological aspect of it” the title, says DeConnick, who is known for her fanfavorite run on “Captain Marvel” for Marvel Comics, as well as her popular creator-owned title “Bitch Planet” for Image. “That’s when it was like (‘Pretty Deadly’) now feels like our own thing and this is our story. Suddenly the passion was there.
“We’d not intended to have talking animals or rivers of blood initially, but once we found them, we said: ‘This is our story.’ ”
Those bloody rivers and the narrative voices of animals weave into the starting point for readers embracing the “Pretty Deadly” idea that death is not just something but rather someone — someone who can fall in love and feel the repercussions of such an emotion just as any mere mortal could.
When looking for fuel to feed her creative fire, DeConnick said she looks toward things that scare her or for something that she has really strong, perhaps even conflicting, views about. Love and death naturally appear on that list every time.
“Love and death are the most basic forces in human life. We are all going to die, and we have to all come to terms with it at some point,” DeConnick says. “We are all going to lose someone we care about. No one gets through unscathed. (That is) the
Poppy Drayton, Austin Butler and Ivana Baquero battle elves in a post-apocalyptic America in “The Shannara Chronicles,” a new TV series based on the best-selling fantasy novels by Terry Brooks. Provided by MTV