In My Queue: Cursed

IMG_0348

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).

NB: Nothing to disclose. If you are interested in collaborating, please see my collaboration and contact information.

In My Queue: Murdoch Mysteries

It has been a while since I’ve talked about the vintage/historical-set television I’ve been enjoying on Netflix. Well, sadly, Murdoch Mysteries, is no longer available on Netflix, so “In My Queue” will be expanding its reach! Of course, there are plenty of lovely historical series on Amazon Prime, which I’ve also been enjoying, but I recently subscribed to Hulu, and that is in very large part to the fact that Murdoch Mysteries is there. But rest assured that I will talk about some of my other favorites in the future.

IMG_0657

Murdoch Mysteries combines two of my favorite things: the late Victorian/Edwardian aesthetic and idealized historical science (i.e., the thing that makes steampunk ever so appealing). Detective William Murdoch is a detective with the Toronto Constabulary in the late 19th and early 20th century who uses his brilliant mind to catch criminals, while working alongside a more traditional bully-boy inspector and a young constable-turned-acolyte. Murdoch manages to take the trope of the socially-blind, yet brilliant detective and make the character so charming and likable because, unlike Sherlock Holmes and his derivatives, he’s not a jerk. He’s a devout Catholic, but not preachy about it, kind and respectful, even beyond the norms of the times, and is always good to his mother (I made that last bit up). He takes the cool, logical mind to it’s rational (pun intended) endpoint and doesn’t see the point of the prejudices of the day.

Which of course, sets the series up to have some pretty fantasy-aspirational female characters. When the series opens, the coroner with whom Murdoch works (and plays *wink*) is a woman who has clawed her way through medical school to be recognized as a doctor. Despite her occasionally annoyingly “girlish” voice, Dr. Julia Ogden is the foil to Murdoch’s seemingly-conventional straight man. She does not intend to fit any of society’s molds, be it chastity or demureness. And she does it all in fantastic costumes (though they do veer out of the area of historical accuracy at times) with impeccable hair.

After Dr. Ogden has to leave the morgue, she is replaced by Dr. Emily Grace, who is a foil in a different way to Murdoch, as well as to his increasingly-prominent constable. Dr. Grace is similarly uninterested in sticking to societies rules, even going so far as to bend Victorian heteronormative relationships, but her attitude is less emotional and passionate than Dr. Ogden, instead resembling Murdoch in a lot of ways, albeit in a more commonly-written “aloof brilliant mind” way. In fact, Dr. Grace’s similarities to Murdoch highlight what it is about Murdoch that makes him so appealing as a character, despite the fact that he’s a devotedly religious man who doesn’t drink and rarely uses colorful language.

But like all good shows, the real gems are in the supporting characters. As mentioned before, Constable George Crabtree is one of these stars. He desperately wants to be like Murdoch, but he just isn’t, and often that’s the best thing for the situation. He makes bizarre connections that are often nonsensical, but occasionally help Murdoch see something his rationality was hiding from him. And despite seeming much less intelligent than Murdoch, he is perhaps more creative. He’s just so sweet and endearing that sometimes I wish he were the main character so it were more likely he’d end up “getting the girl” (I haven’t finished the available episodes, yet, so I have hope).

Finally, Inspector Thomas Brackenreid is the slow burn of the series. While he initially comes off as a traditional, bully-boy, toxically-masculine caricature of a turn-of-the-century copper, he honestly shows the most growth throughout the series. And despite falling prey to plenty of the prejudices of the times, he is always willing to be proven wrong. I find his character oddly compelling, particularly as the series goes on and you see his relationships with his wife and children in more detail. I also find it cute that he keeps an autograph book with signatures of the various special guests in the show.

And that brings me to a key aspect of the series: Murdoch meets famous historical figures, from Nikola Tesla to Winston Churchill. And one of the main running threads of dramatic irony is having Murdoch (or occasionally another character, most often Crabtree) make some comment or suggestion that the audience knows becomes a famous aspect of that person’s life. Murdoch also invents things, often showing a remarkable prescience, such as when he invents a rudimentary polygraph machine. It’s just silly enough to be clear that the show’s creators aren’t intending this to be taken seriously, while being helped by Murdoch’s earnest bearing as a character. Again, the whiz-bang aspect is part of what makes steampunk so appealing. And while Murdoch Mysteries may not be steampunk, in it’s most literal sense, it certainly shares plenty of that appeal. At least, I find it so.