I saw this show promoted on the SyFy channel ahead of its premier, and thought I might check it out, it looked interesting. A guy going around the world searching for legendary artifacts. Sounds like a good formula right? Indiana Jones on a weekly basis.
A friend on twitter (let's name-drop: it was Victoria Dahl )asked for an opinion about the show, she liked that sort of programing, but something seemed.. off to her about it. So, I promised I would check it out and see if I got the same vibe off of it she did.
Something else that I watched was conflicting with the time slot though, so it wasn't until the third episode that I finally got the chance to watch the show.
A symbologist travels around the world on the trail of the greatest treasures and artifacts in history in two thirty minute segments in a hour formatted show. Think a cross between Dan Brown's hero Robert Langdon and Indiana Jones, in your living room for an hour a week.
Okay, I'm down with this. The idea of the show is off to a great start.
Well, here's where the train runs off the tracks.
Ashley Cowie is the host. He's a real-life symbologist and adventurer. To me, he gives off a vibe like he's so much smarter than the viewer and that he's talking down to us. Not condescending, but, yeah. Condescending. Plus, he looks like a walking billboard for cargo pants from some adventure outfitter clothing line.
Kinga Phillips is the show's field producer and Cowie's default side-kick. She's kind of cute, and makes for decent eye-candy. Her main purpose on the show appears to be to do the grunt work, such as setting up meetings with the locals, and to stand there and listen while Cowie explains things on camera.
The camera work is too choppy. I understand that this is a documentary-type show, shot in the field without stediy-cams and the like, bit could be done much smoother. Shot could last longer than 1.2 seconds as well, to give the viewer more time to digest the imagery before cutting to something else. They travel often in vehicles, with Cowie driving and a cameraman in the front seat. This puts the camera lens much too close to the side of Cowie's face to be comfortable. The same could be achieved with a mini-cam mounted on the passenger-side pillar post or stuck onto the inside windshield. Really, this is what the guys on Top Gear do when they road test cars, and it's much better that way.
The animation work used to illustrate the particular points of history Cowie is explaining to Phillips is very cartoon-ish, and poorly done. Figures with heavy black outlines. It looks like cheap, badly drawn anime. The early seasons of South Park with their construction paper animation looked much better than this.
The format needs to be fiddled with as well. Two thirty minute segments jammed together in an hour format with Cowie standing in front of a black screen giving a bit of tie-in commentary to bind the two segments together. I think the show needs to change to a single artifact set up. 30 minutes (22 after commercial time is factored out) feels too rushed to adequately cover the history of each artifact and the journey. A longer period spent on each artifact would allow Cowie to build a case for his explorations, and avoid my next point.
The host takes too many straight-line leaps of logic. I wouldn't jump over a crack in the sidewalk even if Cowie told me it was safe. He seems to jump from conclusion to conclusion in a straight line, without allowing for the possibility that other conclusions may be drawn from the facts. Whether this is due to the time constraint for each segment, I can't say, but it is an annoyance. It's like he's saying "I've figured this out, and it has to be this way because I'm so smart, and I'll tell you why I'm so smart after the commercial break."
Another thing I've noticed, and this happened int he very first episode is directions. In the Mayan Talking Cross segment, Cowie keeps saying they are going west, or due west from site to site chasing the trail of the Talking Cross across the Yucatan. On the map, when the journey is displayed, the route shown clearly goes Southwest, and closer to South than West. Either Cowie can't read a compass right, or else his compass is off by 40 degrees.
Nothing so far has ever been definitively found on the show. In six artifact hunts (three episodes), the closest Cowie and Phillips have come to finding what they were after was viewing a 6th century C.E. sword that "might" possibly be the source of the Excaliber legends. Other hunts have ended in walled off passages, or rubble filled caves.
Kinga Phillips can fill out a tank top and a pair of shorts or jeans, but even that isn't enough to make me want to keep tuning in. I understand that this show is on SyFy, and therefor probably done on the cheap as much as possible. However, I've seen this type of program done many times before and much much better.
Keep yourself questing on the trail for more legendary television.
Comments? Opinions? Let's hear them!