According to the scuttlebutt, Amazon owner Jeff Bezos looked with envy upon HBO’s Game of Thrones and told the minions running Amazon Prime Video that he’d like something similar, spectacular and fantastically medieval-ish on his platform. The result is a massively expensive series based on the popular fantasy novels by Robert Jordan. The intention is for it to be a global hit, in the way that Thrones made HBO a world-wide must-watch channel.
The Wheel of Time (streams on Amazon Prime Video from Friday) is it. Sprawling, definitely spectacular and set in its own world, it is not a clone of Thrones but comparisons are inevitable, especially at first. For instance, instead of “Winter is coming” being a recurring and meaningful catchphrase, Wheel has “The Dark One is coming.” Beyond that, there are stark differences. Wheel is female-centric and from the get-go the viewer is informed that in this world, it’s women who have special powers, control and responsibilities.
In the first few episodes there are sword fights, storms, battles and sorcery. There is also a lot of exposition about this world, its history and mythologies. An option is to ignore most of that and concentrate on the characters. The pivotal figure is Moiraine (Rosamund Pike), a strong and sagelike figure who can sense the future and whose task is to stop the “Dark One” from wreaking havoc. Moiraine is a member of the Aes Sedai, a benign cabal of women who can muster the force of “One Power” to heal the sick and also to unleash violence against the nasty things there in the darkness. Anyway, Moiraine’s main purpose is to find and identify the “Dragon Reborn.” That is, in the reincarnation-heavy mythology, the Dragon Reborn is actually a man or woman who can be attracted to tilting this world toward heaven or hell. She rounds up five likely figures who all have magic skills and off they go, to war against an assortment of no-goodniks.
The series has a certain charm in its depiction of ordinary people living in this beautiful but fraught place. There are love stories and betrayals, some bawdiness, and there is even humour, which is often lacking in fantasy series. There is, mind you, an overreliance on special effects and spectacle, to the point where you’d rather get back to the people involved. The best approach to such a heavily promoted series is to remember that you don’t have to swallow all the myth, complicated backstory and even fully understand the stuff about wheels, serpents, dragons and time moving in a wheel-like manner. Stick around for the marvellous cast of characters, both the sad and funny ones. As Moiraine, Pike is very stately and you get the feeling there is more to this woman than the speeches and her grave gaze on the world. Come for that, and stay for the human drama, because The Wheel of Time is no masterpiece, instead it’s a gee-whiz sword-and-sorcery show. Like all of its ilk, a tad adolescent.
Also airing/streaming this weekend
It’s music, music, music. Rock and Roll Hall of Fame 2021 Induction Ceremony (Saturday, HBO, 8 p.m.) sees the induction of Tina Turner, Carole King, The Go-Go’s, Jay-Z, LL Cool J and Foo Fighters. There are performances by Taylor Swift, King, Jennifer Hudson, LL Cool J and The Go-Go’s. The 49th Annual American Music Awards (Sunday, ABC, CTV, 8 p.m.) is hosted by Cardi B. By tradition the AMAs are more loose and more fun than the Grammy Awards. Guests include Carrie Underwood, Jason Aldean, Kane Brown, New Edition, New Kids on the Block, Bad Bunny, Megan Thee Stallion and Olivia Rodrigo. Recently, Cardi B has had a few things to say about certain musicians being too laid-back from smoking too much weed. Perhaps that will be her theme for the evening.
Finally, in sharp contrast to other content this weekend, take note of Maker of Monsters: The Extraordinary Life of Beau Dick (Saturday, documentary channel, 9 p.m., and streams on CBC Gem) a 2017 documentary film about Kwakwaka’wakw artist and activist Beau Dick. His work as a master carver is stunning, his life was full of strange turns, and his wit and storytelling come alive in this program. Its subject died just as filming ended, and just when his work was being recognized internationally for its enormous power.
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