The Shannara Chronicles is based on a deeply silly multi-volume fantasy series by Terry Brooks; this new MTV show is silly in a more superficial way. A would-be epic about elves, druids, and “rovers,” with some magic “elf stones” and a grand quest thrown in there for good measure, The Shannara Chronicles is a lot of hooey with hotsy young actors.
In the early episodes available for review, the tales centers around Amberle (Poppy Drayton), an elf with a strong urge for adventure, who strives to become the first female member of The Chosen, a sect devoted to protecting a big tree called the Ellcrys. This is a very thoughtful way the producers have provided for you to decide early on whether you want to commit to The Shannara Chronicles — if you care about protecting a big tree with magical powers, you’re in; otherwise, you may as well just shake your head and begin placing bets on how many pointy-eared elf members of the Shannara cast are going to be boogie-downing with Taylor Swift at the next MTV Video Music Awards.
If you’re still with me, Amberle is intrigued by Wil (Austin Butler), a half-elf, half-human, all-hunk fellow whose mother bequeaths him the precious elf stones — which, being a good fairy-tale protagonist, he manages to lose early on in the series, thus setting up one of what I think will be a number of heroic quests across the dusky wooded terrain of The Four Lands.
If Amberle, with her strenuous athleticism, is meant to remind viewers of The Hunger Games’ Katniss, Wil, with his elf-stone destiny to become a wielder of powerful magic, is positioned as a sexier Harry Potter. Keeping the blockbuster comparisons moving along, the excellent actor John Rhys-Davies is around, playing a king but also acting as a visual avatar to remind you of his presence in the Lord of the Rings franchise. And The Four Lands is a backdrop meant to remind you of Game of Thrones, whose popularity you can bet is what motivated MTV to get into the elf business to begin with.
There’s a bad guy, a rogue druid, named Dagda Mor, who leads an army of demons, but really, any random cast member of Teen Mom would make just as good a villain.
I haven’t read my Brooks books thoroughly, but a line such as “I’m definitely sensing a lot of sweaty, elf-boy hate” is much more MTV-brand exposition than it is fantasy-genre chitchat. It’s also typical of the quality of dialogue here. So have at it, sweaty elf-boy lovers! Venture forth into this magical world! But heed the weary warning of some key character I’ve already forgotten: “I can’t believe this is the Shannara I’ve been dealt.” Me neither.
The Shannara Chronicles airs Tuesday nights at 10 p.m. on MTV.