The Wheel of Cheese

One of the weird things about reading more, is that I’ve been enjoying TV more, as well. Even though I’m watching it less. As a rough rule I try to read through the week and catch up with my streaming stack o’ shame on the weekend. But the more I’ve been reading again, the more I feel like reading. So yesterday, for instance, I moved onto the third of John Le Carre’s George Smiley novels.

I’ve also been a lot pickier about those shows I do watch. I‘ve written before about trying to watch TV like I read books, one title at a time. That’s easier to do if you’re following a Netflix series, which almost always drop in a bingeable package. But most of the shows I’m following at the moment are on Apple TV (Invasion, Foundation, See), which has defaulted to a weekly release schedule. It’s kind of old school, but I kind of enjoy it. I strayed away from the fruit company this weekend, however, taking a little sidequest over to Amazon to have a look at the first three episodes of The Wheel Of Time.

I never got around to reading the Robert Jordan books, which is fine because Jordan never got around to finishing them before he died. That might sound a bit harsh, but as best I can tell without consulting el Goog he’d written about 153 volumes in that series before he finally carked it. So I came to the show with no investments, no preconceptions, just a little hole in my weekend viewing schedule that needed to be filled.

Long story short, I liked it.

It has flaws, but what doesn’t.

Speaking as a guy with absolutely zero concern for how close the adaptation hews to the source material, my only real nitpicks were about the slightly wooden acting of the younger cast members, at least in the earlier episodes. They seemed like pretty generic characters, performed generically.

The Girl With The Magical Gift. The Brawny Fellow With The Terrible Secret. The Slightly Shifty Fellow With Slightly Less Terrible Secret. The Red Headed Punctum Indifference With The Bow And Arrow.

They seemed pretty perfectly cast to appeal to a A/B demographic and for the first half of the first episode I felt like I could’ve been watching any teen drama on any streaming service, which was kind of annoying because I don’t watch teen drama. But then the monsters attacked, and lots of people died, and things got more interesting.

Also Rosamund Pike turned up. Phwoar. All is forgiven, script writers and producers.

The other thing that bothered me initially, was the set dressing. A lot of the first episode takes place in the little fantasy village of Two Rivers and although you can see the millions and millions of dollars they spent on building out the world, nobody thought to ask whether a dark ages village would be so neat and tidy. Seriously, there wasn’t a single piece of straw on the floor. Not a dribble of chicken shit on a single flagstone. Nothing. It looked like a cutscene from Skyrim.

It was so clean, so clinical, that it was kind of distracting. One of the things I remember about the early Game of Thrones scenes set in Winterfell, was just how dirty and muddy everything felt. Not just looked, but felt, as though you were getting dirty just sitting and watching it. Same thing in Deadwood. It helps the viewer to sink into the story, I think.

But in this case everybody looked like they’d been scrubbed until their bellybuttons shined. It was legit distracting.

But then some monsters turn up and make a mess, and I guess the contrast between before and after kind of works, so in hindsight I’ll let that one pass.

My friend and colleague Mr Stirling had some issues of verisimilitude with the diverse population of the various villages and counties. His point was fairly made. Mediaeval agrarian societies were not diverse. They simply couldn’t be. Most people died within a mile of where they were born. There was no mechanism to explain where all of the races, ethnicities, whatever had come from in the narrative world of The Wheel Of Time. I noticed the same thing, but unlike Steve, I just didn’t care. It’s a magical world. Strange things happen. The studios which produced the series, however, don’t live in a magical world. They live in a global marketplace. And that market demands diversity.

Once the monsters turn up, the narrative accelerates. By the second episode your basic band of five have split into a series of questing parties and you can see just how conventional the narrative structure for the rest of the story is going to be. Again, I’m cool with this. I love a good quest. It looks like we’re going to get three or four of them in this series, which presents as damn good value to me.

I’m not going to bother going into plot details, because spoilers. But I think it’s reasonable to say that we’re going to watch a bunch of pretty young things go on a mission to save the world from gathering darkness. It was all very cheesy, but with expensive, high production values. And I like cheese, especially the spendy cheese. So I will be back for more.