Monday, October 28, 2019

TV REVIEW: AppleTV+'s 'See'

AppleTV+ will debut its new original drama series See on Friday, November 1 with its first three episodes. The drama stars Jason Momoa, Sylvia Hoeks, Hera Hilmar, Christian Camargo, Archie Madekwe, Nesta Cooper, Yadira Guevara-Prip and Alfre Woodard.

Read on for my thoughts on the fantasy drama after screening its first three episodes.

AppleTV+ may not have an extensive catalog of programming at launch. That puts it at a severe disadvantage in the streaming wars that intensify with each passing day. The network executives certainly want there to be a variety within the programs it is offering on day one though. The new drama See puts forth the acknowledgement that this streaming service can be home to the next fantasy genre player in town. It's a type of show that many outlets are chasing at the moment. In the absence of Game of Thrones on HBO, everyone is seemingly trying to fill that void and play to that specific audience. It's not a bad gambit whatsoever. It's a popular genre for a reason. It's fun watching worlds that don't exactly mirror our own even if some themes are universal throughout space and time. The creative teams just have to be aware that viewers won't simply stick around solely for well-choreographed action sequences. Those are fun and engaging. However, that tension may quickly fade away if the cast that fill out the world isn't compelling in their own ways. Through three episodes, it still feels like See is finding its path. That's not inherently a bad thing. The drama comes from Peaky Blinders creator Steven Knight and The Hunger Games director Francis Lawrence. It is certainly impressive from a technical standpoint especially in directing, sound design and stunt coordination. But again, it mostly comes across as a work-in-progress where it's clear some things of interest are slowly developing while other plot concerns just keep spinning in the hopes of finding relevance some day. However, that mostly means these episodes are a slog to get through while creating tons of practical questions.

This drama imagines a world in which the sense of sight has been eliminated from humanity. The survivors of a vicious disease had this prominent sense taken away from them. For generations, humanity has learned how to survive in a world where no one could see anymore. It's fairly inventive to see how the creative team fleshes out such an idea. The other senses are heightened so these people still present as powerful warriors who interact with the world in a unique but impressive way. But it also aspires for intimacy wherein the audience is right there in the moment with the characters experiencing some of the brutal things that are taking place just outside of their perception. Of course, there's a grand mythology at play as well that risks radically changing the world if people are willing to embrace it. A pair of babies are born with the ability to see. It is a miracle but is treated as a death sentence too. The ruling class have declared talking about the myth of vision to be heresy and treason punishable by death. The leaders have grown even more devout in the fear that it was God's wrath that destroyed the previous world. But the people who now occupy this familiar space no longer have any connection to the world that the viewer understands and accepts as normal. The sun is no longer a mass in outer space the universe revolves around. Instead, it is treated as the physical manifestation of God and his ability to be present at all times. It's easy for this society to blame what they don't know on some mystical forces at work. For those who can see though, it's simply something that they know to look for and be aware about. It definitely runs the risk of coming across as ableist. The core dynamic follows an entire village on the run. It's not just one individual family forced to flee for safety elsewhere after word reaches the queen's army that a witch and babies who can see are rumored to live in this community. It's such a vicious world that the sheer suspicion of challenging the law is enough to be killed. There just isn't much nuance in that particular discussion.

The show isn't subtle with these themes. It highlights just how dangerous a world that lacks the power to see can actually be. But it's also one built on faith and common connection. Humanity had this taken from them as a collective unit. As such, they have learned how to adapt as one. There may be a leader who rules over a vaguely defined kingdom. And yet, that's the corner of the show that feels the most broad and insane. Sylvia Hoeks plays Queen Kane almost as if she's from a different show altogether. She is enraged and fixated on a sole idea. That doesn't change no matter how many years go by. It's a wildly different quality than what is on display with leading man Jason Momoa. His character, Baba Voss, is the leader of his tribe and the father of the babies who can see. He has a personal stake in what happens to all of his people. But he too has a vicious side that can turn lethal and threatening at a moment's notice. He does his best to protect his children even though he may not understand the world in the same way that they do. It's a very physically demanding role. One that requires hunching over and the need to move as precisely and quietly as possible. But it can be extremely towering as well. He looms large over the proceedings. Momoa and Alfre Woodard bring a sense of legitimacy to the proceedings. That is necessary in the fantasy genre because the audience needs familiar faces to help ease them into these incredible premises. But the creative team has to give them interesting things to do. There is no reason for someone of Woodard's stature to be a part of this particular show. Plus, there is a lot of familiarity to the storytelling. Two characters who are related also share an intense sexual relationship. Secrets are kept or withheld for no good reason except for stringing people along for a little while longer. It's hard to tell some of the more minor characters apart. There is a growing sense of mythology still being introduced three episodes in. Right now, this is a show that will require a lot of trust and investment in the early going. It may work out in the end or it may not. That's always the gamble when it comes to fantasy shows. The bonds between the characters grow in a more engaging way as the series develops while the premiere features the most extensive action sequence. However, that's all that can really be said about the show at this point in time.