Into the Badlands: Season One
Starz / Anchor Bay // Unrated // $49.99 // November 8, 2016
Review by Nick Hartel | posted November 21, 2016
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For the past decade or more, AMC has been leading the charge in terms of quality TV storytelling, beyond the major hits such as "Mad Men", "Breaking Bad", and "The Walking Dead" there are a number of other series that garner their own level of notoriety and following. 2015's "Into the Badlands" is one of AMC's more ambitious offerings, bringing "Smallville" creators Alfred Gough and Miles Millar back together to tell one of the first martial arts oriented series since the ill-fated UPN offering, "Kung Fu: The Legend Continues". Opening with one of the more jaw dropping TV action set pieces, featuring series hero, Sunny (Daniel Wu) squaring off against a cadre of nameless raiders who seem to have been plucked straight out of the "Fallout" game series; the kinetically charged sequence is a strong mix of traditional martial arts, wire-work, and a healthy dose of lethal swordplay; it very easily secures viewers to their seats for the first of six episodes.

It's never certain whether "Into the Badlands" is a post-apocalyptic tale of some strange alternate history take; what is certain, is the six-episode debut season sports a stylish look that has a timeless quality to it. The art direction, along with the action choreography are top notch and on the merits of both, the series demands at least a passing glance and trial of the first episode. The series begins to quickly languish as it sets up its seemingly complex, but more often convoluted universe; in short, the Barons rule the Badlands and employ their "Clippers" (of which Sunny is one of the deadliest alive, as made clear in a back full of tally marks, reminiscent of WW II era fighter craft) to keep order and do their bidding. Sunny's Baron, Quinn (Martin Csokas) is a strange Lincoln-esque looking figure suffering from a crippling brain disease that is bound to rob him of his life. Complicating matters is M.K. a boy Sunny rescues from the raiders in the opening scene who by the end of our debut, reveals a strange and deadly power within his body that sets Sunny on a journey into intrigue and espionage between Barons.

"Into the Badlands" is a very ambitious and perhaps overly self-important piece of storytelling; longing to be unlike anything on modern TV it succeeds at the most shallow of visual levels. The stunning choreographed fight sequences do set it apart from every show in current contention and in many instances hits a major motion picture level of quality; as the story progresses and Sunny encounters rival Baron, The Widow, the fight sequences up the ante on both the visceral and narrative front. The key factor that holds "Into the Badlands" back from being a merely "good" series is it's ultimately pointless plotting and questionable acting quality. Csokas and Wu are notable creating the most memorable characters of the series, while occasional guest stars Lance Henriksen and Stephen Lang come close to stealing the show in most of their appearances. The weakest link of the whole affair is Aramis Knight who fills the shoes of the series most pivotal character/plot device M.K. It's obvious from the opening scene, M.K. is intended to be Sunny's protege and sadly, Knight's lack of charisma and stilted delivery make his crucial scenes to advancing the series painful to endure.

Even at a mere total running time of four-and-a-half hours for a debut season, "Into the Badlands" outstays its welcome by a good 50-60%. The true depth of what's offered in the six episodes could have been smartly distilled into a two-hour single feature. The fault ultimately lies with the series creators, Gough and Millar who prove yet again as they have on their other efforts, that quantity, not quality drives their work. It's a shame, that despite the jaw dropping fight choreography and stellar production design that "Into the Badlands" does little to advance the mystery of a city/utopia outside the badlands and instead spins its wheels pitting its Barons against each other in pointless conflict. AMC has renewed the series for a 10-episode second season, that quite honestly I have zero interest in investing my time in. This series for all it tries to do in order to to standout amongst a vast sea of quality programming, does little more than waste the time of hopeful viewers, provided they can even force themselves to see where this first chapter of the story winds up.

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