On recommendation from one of my buddies at work, I caught History Channel’s new series VIKINGS on my OnDemand. It comes very highly rated on IMDB, has a healthy amount of viewers and I hear good things as I see other reviews floating around out there on the internet. There’s nothing quite like the truth-in-advertising when it comes to the title of the show… If there’s any doubt in your mind as to what this show is about, you should immediately turn off the History Channel and stick with reruns of TWO BROKE GIRLS.
Perhaps I’m missing something, because VIKINGS strikes me as a strange little show. I’m not going to say it’s bad per se, only because it’s difficult to rate a new show based solely on its first couple of episodes. But it’s a show that isn’t quite sure what it wants to be, stuck in a rut between a strict documentary and historical drama. Would that be a Drocumentary or a Documama? I turned to my trusty Urban Dictionary on this one and came up empty handed.
Want more details? Venture inside!
VIKINGS follows a Viking named Ragnar Lodbrok, who to those like myself who are largely uninitiated to the finer details of Norse mythology, is the subject of “Ragnar’s Saga” and one of the greatest heroes in Viking history. He was a Viking commander and is famous for attacking both France and England, also serving as king of Denmark as well as a big chunk of Sweden.
So the premise is pretty solid. But it falters in its execution primarily because it takes breaks every five minutes to explain some sort of deep historical context like how the Vikings navigated, how their boats work, or even how they do laundry. Although it is the History Channel, the constant explanations are completely unnecessary and overly-distracting. In one of the interviews with the show’s director, he says that they wanted the audience to be able to rub elbows with Vikings and present a “tremendous amount of detail” from the historical perspective. Well no kidding. I just loved the irony when the Vikings finally meet a bunch of monks in an English monastery and they all speak English. Historical detail wins again!
History Channel shows also have a bad habit of not being to comfortably film more than two or three actors on screen at once. Especially in the bigger fighting scenes, we are supposed to be thrust in the middle of a huge battle but only two people are fighting at any given time. I know the budget for TV is lower than that of Hollywood, but there are many numbers of people that exist between two (as in VIKINGS) and 100 (as in BRAVEHEART or GLADIATOR). The effect of this is that it makes the world of the show feel much smaller than it should.
The ‘small’ feeling of the filming style and the awkward drocumentary-ness effectively saps the life out of the actors to the point where one ceases to build relationships with or continue to care about the characters. Which is too bad because the characters could be extremely interesting. On as side note, the lead actor who plays Ragnar (TRAVIS FIMMEL) looks way too much like Jax Teller from Sons of Anarchy. Not sure if that was an intentional move or not. More than once I felt like we were tuned into VIKINGS OF ANARCHY and half-expected Ragnar to ride off their ship in a Harley.
VIKINGS also stars Gabriel Byrne (he plays the leader of the group Earl Haraldson) who is a great actor under normal circumstances but here holds the acting range of a warped 2×4.
And what of the strange random sex scenes? I have zero qualms about sex in shows, but they take it to a whole new level of weird-and-creepy when Ragnar’s brother asks Ragnar’s son where his parents are, and the son replies “they’re having sex”. A-w-k-w-a-r-d. And then we are treated to a random raping of Ragnar’s wife by Ragnar’s brother as well as Earl Haraldson freely offering his wife to other men. Do I really need to know about ancient Nordic sex practices? Because I really don’t think I do.
The second episode definitely got more interesting than the pilot as we finally started to get places with the Vikings setting sail and reaching England to slaughter some monks. But it still left something to be desired in an awfully big way, and I’m not sure I’m going to be back for thirds.
VIKINGS might possibly be suitable visual stimuli for history buffs or fanboys of Nordic culture, but I would assume to be largely unappealing to the average viewer, certainly unappealing to me. C- overall.