Sinbad: The Complete First Season (BBC Home Entertainment)

Sinbad 75Sinbad is so staid that the mood makes most attempts at levity feel false and manages to sap all of the swashbuckling adventure from the series.

Sinbad 500

Fantasy and science fiction shows are always hit or miss. Your standard sitcom or family drama can get away with simply having good writing and strong performances, and while having those two elements coalesce are difficult enough, a show like Sinbad needs much more than that.

For Sinbad to be truly successful, it needs to fully transport us to magical worlds with settings and special effects that work on a TV show budget. They also need something far more nebulous than a run-of-the-mill program; fantasy must scratch the itch of a critical number of fanboys, geek girls and genre nerds. And we fantasy nerds are a notoriously picky lot.

Unfortunately, Sinbad is only about 40 percent close to that target. The look of the show is its main strength. Filmed in Malta, every scene is filled with rich colors and ancient-looking architecture or glorious vistas. All the people look appropriately old-world, sweaty and swarthy. The costumes (with the glaring exceptions of what I swear are a modern day raincoat and a near exact copy of the Indiana Jones fedora) are believably ancient, lived-in and ornate. CGI gives us realistic giant snakes, devil dogs, hell beasts and blind monsters made of ocean water.

Those splendid aspects of Sinbad are meant to support the meat of the show—the writing and performances. It’s too bad that those things just aren’t that great. The basic setup is fine. After Sinbad (Elliot Knight) accidentally kills the son of a lord in an underground boxing match, Lord Akbari (Naveen Andrews) exacts revenge on Sinbad’s family. When Sinbad’s grandmother finds out that his actions led to the family’s pain, she curses Sinbad to roam the seas until he can gain some humility and atone.

He soon finds himself with a ship and a disparate crew to adventure around with, but my first issue with Sinbad is the character himself. I don’t really believe that the merry band of explorers would be so quick to follow him.

Sure, he’s daring and cunning, but Sinbad isn’t the oldest or most knowledgeable about sailing (that’s the ship’s cook), the strongest or best fighter (there’s a war-weary Viking onboard for that) or the most learned (a medical student fills that bill). Knight isn’t a bad actor by any means, he just doesn’t exude enough charm, toughness or untapped authority to be totally believable as a young man that virtual strangers would bet their lives on.

Their adventures are interesting enough, but the storytelling lacks certain urgency. In some cases the timing is oddly off, with the story lingering on innocuous moments when something major is happening somewhere else. A few episodes leave you wondering what the point of the story is until late in the show because the action drags so much.

Sinbad takes itself so seriously that I found myself wishing it were more like (never thought I’d hope for this) the Hercules and Xena shows from the mid-1990s. They may have been overly campy, but at least they were fun. And Sinbad is so staid that the mood makes most attempts at levity feel false and manages to sap all of the swashbuckling adventure from the series. I should get goose bumps and feel nervous watching Sinbad and crew fight off a community of kidnapping cannibals; instead I felt nothing.

The three-disc set offers almost an hour of special features on the costumes, the why and how of filming in Malta, behind the scenes interviews and looks at the process of filming. Overall, I’d say that if your special features are more interesting than your television program, you’ve got bigger issues than showing us how you film in a giant water tank. | Adrienne Jones

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