The Shannara Chronicles Tuesdays, 10 p.m., MTV.
Thanks to the massive success of Game of Thrones, fantasy epics are hot commodities, and even MTV is attempting to get in on the action with The Shannara Chronicles, adapting Terry Brooks’ long-running book series (Brooks has written 28 Shannara novels since 1977). Adapted mainly from 1982’s The Elfstones of Shannara, the first season follows young half-elf Wil (Austin Butler), elf princess Amberle (Poppy Drayton) and human thief Eretria (Ivana Baquero) on a quest to restore a magical tree that has kept demons from overrunning their world (a post-apocalyptic version of Earth known as the Four Lands) for hundreds of years.
With its elves, trolls, gnomes and demons, Shannara has more in common with The Lord of the Rings than it does with Game of Thrones, and Rings co-star John Rhys-Davies lends some genre credibility as the elf king. But even Rhys-Davies can’t salvage the show’s terrible dialogue, which is full of vaguely ominous pronouncements (“It has begun”; “There are dark days ahead”; “Your destiny awaits”) that mean nothing. Because this is an MTV show, the lead actors are pretty, vacant young people, and they seem like they belong anywhere but a magic-filled fantasy world. With his shaggy hair, knit cap, hoodie and fingerless gloves, Wil looks more like a hipster barista than an elf on a quest, and Amberle dresses like she’s appearing in an Evanescence video.
The special effects are dodgy, and aside from some sweeping shots of the New Zealand countryside, the visual style is pretty tacky (the interior of the elves’ palace looks like a holistic wellness center). Between Shannara and their recent AMC series Into the Badlands, show creators Al Gough and Miles Millar have really cornered the market on terrible fantasy TV series, although at least Badlands had some cool fight scenes to distract from the dismal writing and acting. With its quests broken up into bite-sized pieces and its carefully crafted band of adventurers, Shannara is like watching someone else play a prepackaged Dungeons & Dragons campaign, only not as much fun.