So recently, Netflix recommended their new series Cursed to me and I was initially skeptical. But as I went through my days, I felt the need to put something rather silly, and somewhat related to fairies and wizards, on in the background while I sewed on the weekends during Elliot’s nap. And, well, there is a reason algorithms are used to target content. I have thoroughly enjoyed the first season of this show and I’m hoping the decide to expand into a second season because I definitely don’t feel like the story is over. I will try to avoid spoilers, but know that the biggest spoiler is actually revealed in the first few seconds of the opening of the series, so there’s not a whole lot else to spoil.
Anyway, the premise is that this is sort of an alternate Arthurian universe in which humans live alongside people known as Fey on the Britannic isle. The Fey have magic, a connection with the land, and often some sort of physical trait that distinguishes them from humans. But eventually, the relationship turns sour and there is a lot of prejudice among the humans against the Fey, which is epitomized by the Red Paladins, who are a religious sect that travels around slaughtering Fey and burning their villages in the name of “cleansing” the isle of evil. The king is Uther Pendragon, and he seems largely ineffective at managing… well most things. And he frequently turns to his Fey magician advisor, Merlin, who is loathed by humans for being Fey and loathed by Fey for working with humans. Plus, he has a drinking problem and may or may not have lost his magic.
Among this turmoil, a girl from a Fey village named Nimue has some sort of unorthodox connection to the nature spirits that her village worships. She is somehow ostracized by her village because while Fey are magic, her magic is the wrong kind of magic. And therefore she’s cursed. Eventually, she ends up with a magical sword that chooses the rightful ruler of Britannia and sets off on a quest to return it to Merlin. Along the way she meets a rogue named Arthur whose sister Morgana is a nun who goes by Ygraine. Nimue also has to learn to deal with her peculiar magical abilities, which involve harnessing the violent will of plants. And also avoid being captured, tortured, and executed by the Red Paladins.
It is a sufficiently silly premise, with just enough deviation from the source legends, that I went into with basically zero expectations. Because the show is not at all faithful to pretty much all of the Arthurian legends, save perhaps for the names and the setting, the nitpicky, Arthurian-nerd section of my brain didn’t get triggered, and I was able to enjoy it for the fairies-and-wizards romp that it is. It is perhaps a bit heavy-handed with the racial metaphors, but at its core, it reminded me of a show like Carnival Row, if a bit less serious and obviously aimed at a younger audience.
Hands down, my absolute favorite part of the show is the use of color. There is a striking color palette different between the Fey and the Red Paladins that is echoed throughout the series, and even somewhat foreshadows alliances and intrigues that are revealed later in the show. And the jewel-toned-plus-green palette of the Fey delights my frivolously fae-inspired aesthetic self. Plus, they actually made some nods to actual medieval clothing, rather than going full fantasy and yielding to sexy armor.
Some quibbles: the actor who plays Arthur seems very wooden and I can’t tell if it’s him or the direction. The actor who plays Merlin is the same person who plays Floki in Vikings and I wonder if the casting director wanted to cast the actor or Floki because the performance is very similar. In fact, much of the acting is not terrific, but that’s not really the kind of show it is. I kind of like the actor who plays Nimue’s friend Pym, though. Oh, and the graphic-novel-style scene transitions make it seem like the production wanted to scream “This show is made by Frank Miller!” with every change. None of this really took away from my enjoyment of the series, though it helps that I went into it looking for a confection, not high art.
So if you’re into fairies, wizards, maybe-King-Arthur, and visually stunning shots, this was a delightful way to spend a few days binge-watching (or at least as much as I can when I’m limited to the 1-3 hours of my toddler’s daily nap).
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