Shadow and Bone

Netflix’s original series Shadow and Bone debuts on the streaming service tomorrow, April 23. Trailers and promo materials are flying around as Netflix drops their marketing hammer, but what the hell is this show that everyone is hyped up about? Let’s take a look and see if we can determine what’s happening here.

The Overview

Let’s be fair: I am not traditionally “Netflix Guy” – the streaming giant’s penchant for cancelling shows after two seasons (not coincidentally, right before SAG’s rules about paying actors more money the longer their show runs) is a major turn-off for me. It seems like Netflix snaps up properties, spends some money on them, and tosses them onto the platform with no real plan on how to roll out a long-term experience, and abandon the shows (and fans) when it becomes more trouble than it’s worth. What does that even mean to a company with Netflix’s deep pockets? The details of Netflix’s ROI threshold is anyone’s guess, but even as they remain the King of the Streaming Wars, remember that Joffrey was also a King and he kinda sucked.

Anyway, I digress. Shadow and Bone has snuck up on me; since I rarely open the Netflix app, and employ the services of an Ad Blocker, I only recently stumbled upon this show. Originally, I was confused about Shadow and Bone‘s identity: is it a show? A menswear brand? A method for smoking whole hog? Just like when ever band in the early-200’s was “The ____________” – (The Strokes, The Hives, The Killers, The Kooks, etc), too many things are named “‘Rustic Word’ and ‘Rustic Word'” these days. I may just be getting old, but Shadow and Bone, Hearth and Hand, Mott and Bow – all these things blend together. It was only recently, when I saw a piece up at Hollywood Reporter about one of the lead actors of the show, did it click in my head that “this is a show, and maybe it will be worth watching.”

Origin Story

As is my time-honored tradition, once my interest in this show was piqued, I dove into research mode. A quick few Googles tells me that Shadow and Bone is the first entry into a fantasy series written by author Leigh Bardugo; in Shadow and Bone and its sequels, the female protagonist SURPRISE! finds out she has some powers and maybe can use them to, ya know, defeat the bad guys, of course. Let’s take a look at the trailer:

The Formula

There seems to be Netflix’s usual level of production value, to be fair, but I cannot honestly understand what the difference between this and, say, His Dark Materials is. Or the new HBO show The Nevers. What’s the one with Orlando Bloom? Oh yeah, Carnival Row! I mean, am I crazy here? I understand that there’s a winning formula for success in these sorts of genre pieces, but how closely must we adhere to that formula. It seems that if we were to break into the production office putting these shows together, their markerboards would reveal the same wordcloud in different dry erase colors:

Shadow and Bone Word Cloud
…and just a *pinch* of thinly-veiled racism towards the wizards/mutants/gifted

Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, and especially Game of Thrones proved that high-end fantasy productions can do well, and now we’re looking and the second (maybe third?) wave of hangers-on that are surfing this wave. The goal here is to water the themes and violence and sex down to a point where it’s essentially PG-13, thus making it accessible to the young adult crowd, and of course, more accessible to a larger audience. This isn’t particularly difficult to see, and it’s not remotely upsetting considering the Shadow and Bone series is considered to be in the “young adult” genre. But, at what point are these authors and producers going to start suing each other for copyright infringement??

The Verdict

Will I watch Shadow and Bone? Probably not, if i’m being honest. I’d actually probably prefer to spend my time cranking out Carnival Row, or even His Dark Materials, if I were forced to watch a show that is in this ballpark. The market is full-up with fantasy right now, which is not a bad thing in the grand scheme, but my tank is topped off. I’m saturated. And frankly, I’m too emotionally fragile to go get attached to a show that Netflix will probably just cancel in two years anyway.

Does Shadow and Bone have a chance to be good though? Of course – Netflix clearly didn’t skimp on the budget and the premise seems set up for lots of political intrigue and twists (certainly nothing as gory as the Red Wedding though…), so it’s got a fighting chance. The real question is whether Shadow and Bone will do enough to differentiate itself from the myriad other Fantasy TV projects that are en route to streaming services (don’t worry, we’ll cover them here). If not, Shadow and Bone will become another casualty of Netflix’s endless cycle of adaptations and cancellations.

Netflix’s Shadow and Bone debuts on Netflix on April 23rd.

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