Netflix’s The Witcher is just one of the many attempts by streaming services everywhere to catch the lightning in a bottle that was HBO’s Game of Thrones. This series, hailing from Lauren Schmidt Hissrich of Daredevil and The Umbrella Academy fame, is based on a series of fantasy novels by Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski.
Starring DC’s Superman Henry Cavill in the lead role as Geralt of Rivia, the show centers on Geralt, a monster hunter with powers akin to that of a sorcerer. The show also features two other lead characters Yennifer, an up and coming sorceress, played by newcomer Anya Chalotra, and a young princess Ciri, played by Freya Allan.
The first season explores how the trio is connected and the way their fates are interlinked. The Witcher franchise is an interesting one, given that the popularity of the videogames based on the novels have already made The Witcher a part of popular culture before the arrival of the live-action adaptation.
The decision to adapt the books in the wake of Game of Thrones already made the Game of Thrones comparisons given that they are both fantasy novels. But for better or worse, the genre is the only thing similar to the HBO show and the Netflix one. While Game of Thrones was more interested in court politics than magic, The Witcher is, first and foremost, a fantasy action drama more than anything else.
Light on substance and heavy on CGI and special effects, the first season of the show on Netflix spans decades in the life of our lead. But while the loosely connected series of events don’t make an overall cohesive story that is fun to follow, the structure of the show (once viewers get the hang of it) does come as somewhat of a pleasant surprise.
Weirdly, the show feels like a gritty live-action version of Shrek that is more R rated and shares Game of Thrones’ penchant for unnecessary nudity. The tone of the show is essentially a pendulum in motion, varying episode to episode, and only briefly finding its groove. The show works best when Geralt is a secondary character, and there is humor aplenty to be found in the bizarre situations he lands himself in.
It is when the show goes too dark, that it exposes itself as a show in desperate need of fine-tuning. In the first season, it is unclear if The Witcher really knows what kind of show it wants to be. But there is a pleasure to be found in the excellent action sequences and sharp characters, however brief.
The Witcher has the kind of writing that works when one focuses in on individual scenes and dialogues, with some truly fun zingers courtesy of Yennifer. The more you reach the end though, the less clear the purpose of the show becomes. What is of note, though, is that the series is very focused on its female characters even when it places Geralt front and center.
The three actors in the fantasy epic all do marvelous work with their roles. Allan’s Ciri is given the least screentime of the through, but the show does ensure that we remain invested in her fate by the end of the season. Cavill is an amicable lead, portraying the angsty monster hunter with the right kind of gruff affability.
It is, however, Chalotra, who gets the meatiest role and truly has the most fun. Starting out as a disabled girl with dreams of being more, her acting before and after her transformation remains solid, and it is impossible to predict what she’s thinking, which makes her the most alluring thing about the show.
Yet the show is ultimately less than the sum of its parts. With each episode varying so greatly in style and tone, it isn’t hard to understand why some elements click while others don’t.
Interestingly, the worst episodes of the show are ones at the first and last ones, meaning you probably won’t get addicted to the show from your first taste, nor will you be clamoring for more once you’re done.
Luckily for the show, however, the streaming giant has already renewed it for another season, meaning that we are stuck with Geralt and the gang for the foreseeable future.
To the show’s credit, it does show promise and is probably the best fantasy series to come out of all the competing streaming services. Apple+’s Jason Momoa-led ‘See’ and Amazon’s Orlando Bloom starrer ‘Carnival Row’ aren’t entirely on the same level as The Witcher. But with a couple of rocky episodes and an unclear direction, it is clear that this Netflix show also needs work.