Krypton TV series pilot
Actors: Cameron Cuffe, Georgina Campbell, Shaun Sipos, Elliot Cowan, Ann Ogbomo, Aaron Pierre, Wallis Day, Rasmus Hardiker, Ian McElhinney, Paula Malcomson, Rupert Graves & Nicholas Witham Mueller
Directors: Ciaran Donnelly & Colm McCarthy
Writers: David S. Goyer & Ian Goldberg
Producers: Phantom Four, DC Entertainment & Warner Horizon Television
Fans of comic books are certainly living in a Golden Age of other-media adaptations. There are so many comics-related shows (and not just flowing from the super-hero genre) on the air and streaming now, it’s impossible to follow them all. There was a time when I probably would have watched any comic-related show out of pure devotion to my beloved medium, regardless of quality. Having PVR’d the first episode of Syfy’s new Krypton series (airing on Space here in Canada), I only got around to watching it this weekend, a few days after its premiere. I was of two minds after having watched it: disappointed and relieved — relieved I don’t need to cram another show into the lineup of programs I watch regularly.
Two centuries before baby Kal-El is fated to make the interstellar journey to Earth, his grandfather, Seg-El, found himself a poor pariah in a world ruled by an authoritarian, faith-driven regime. The House of El was no more, stripped of status after Seg’s grandfather was executed for sedition for daring to assert Kryptonians weren’t alone in the universe when Seg was just a child. The rebellious Seg, now an adult, is on the cusp of regaining status in Kryptonian, courtesy of the man who killed his beloved grandfather, but thanks to a visitor from across time and space, Seg learns he will give rise to a heroic legacy. But for that destiny to come true, he must continue his grandfather’s work, because a threat from beyond the stars is coming to eradicate his homeworld.
The performances in this range from flat and lifeless to over the top. There’s definitely nothing in the way of nuance to be found here. It doesn’t help that the actors aren’t given much in the script in the way of characterization. The bad guys are bad because… well, because they have to be bad. Lyta Zod is the only security officer who’s not a bully, and we don’t get any sense of why she’s different, especially since she was raised by a brutal taskmaster. We’re told our lead, Seg-El, is brilliant, but we never get a sense that he’s inherited his grandfather’s scientific mind; we’re just told he has because the story requires it of him.
The show lost me early on, in its first key scene: Val-El’s trial and execution. That his young grandson would be there to witness it all — it made no sense. Why would officials allow it? Why would his parents? Why would his grandfather want memories of such trauma swirling around in a kid’s head? The story requires it — so Seg-El will want to honor his grandfather — so logic and believable characterization don’t enter into the equation.
Everything about this felt like the producers and writers were trying to craft something in the science-fiction genre to appeal to fans of Game of Thrones. The plethora of British and Irish actors cast in virtually all of the roles certainly reinforced that impression. Now mind you, I don’t have a problem with casting UK and other international actors in American-produced TV shows and movies. However, Krypton is based on a tremendously American icon, Superman, and it just strikes me that turning to British actors — perhaps to bring a greater sense of gravitas to the drama with those accents — marks a real disconnect from the source material.
I was also taken aback to hear one of the characters refer to another as “a piece of shit” in the course of the show. It was the only instance of cursing I noticed, and it took me right out of the show. Again, I don’t have an issue with swearing in pop culture in general, but in the context of a show about Superman’s history, it just struck me as odd, especially since it was such an isolated moment and contributed nothing to the story or mood. Most of the character speak in such a stilted manner, it also felt completely out of place. I had the same reaction to Seg and Lyta’s sex scene. Though destined to be apart, they’ve madly in love; I get it, so I didn’t need to see side-boob to get the point. These fleeting moments seem designed to get the audience to take the show more seriously, to declare how mature the storytelling is, but those tactics instead just distract from it.
There were moments during the pilot when I perked up and smiled, and that was typically when a DC Universe Easter egg popped up, be it the reference to Krypton’s resistance movement as Black Zero or the identity of the Earthman who’s come to warn Seg-El of what’s at stake. When I took note of that plot element in the ad campaign for the show, I thought it was an odd choice, but the writers make it work (at least for longtime DC readers) with the character choice, as his ability to travel light-years makes sense, and it’s not too much of a stretch to bring time into the mix as well.
The costumes and sets were often disappointing as well. The robot-mask things that adorn random security forces are far too huge, and the three-faced mask worn by the Voice of Rao was ugly and weird, and not all that intimidating. There’s no consistency to the uniforms of the members of the Military Guild, and the advanced technology that’s integral to a Kryptonian backdrop really isn’t as prevalent as one would expect. The brief glimpse we get of Brainiac and his ship is striking though.
Ultimately, I think what put me off the most is that there are so few characters here that I like. Seg-El is portrayed as a hothead and a brawler who’s only still a going concern because he gets lucky, nothing more. The only Kryptonian character that seemed like a solid guy was Kem, Seg’s bartender pal, and I didn’t even get a sense of his name until I looked up credits to write this review. The overall look and tone of the show is so dreary that I just… well, it wasn’t fun to watch. Gotham, set in a city full of serial killers and corrupt cops, is more fun, and I’m not even watching that regularly anymore. 3/10