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Monday, June 17, 2013

SINBAD Kinda Bad

Article first published as SINBAD Kinda Bad on TheTVKing.



SyFy is airing the British series SINBAD, beginning this week. With a similar feel as the recently-concluded Merlin, SINBAD seeks to retell the story of a legend with young, sexy actors, lots of special effects, a mix of magic and science, and enough mythology to keep a series going for awhile.

When first we meet Sinbad (newcomer Elliot Knight), he is a street rat, rigging fights and picking pockets to make ends meet and support his family. With brother Jamil (Devon Anderson, EastEnders) in tow, Sinbad runs through the town, making lots of enemies, but without many worries or stresses. He assumes his charm and wit will get him out of any tough situation. Up until this "Pilot," it does.

Then things go horribly wrong, with Sinbad and Jamil arrested not only for thievery, but also for the death of the heir to the city, Lord Akbari's son. Lord Akbari (Naveen Andrews, Lost) is furious, intent on making Sinbad feel as bad as he does. Akbari takes some revenge, which I won't spoil because it is quite pivotal, but it's not enough to satisfy the lord, who intends to keep hunting Sinbad down, though he doesn't get a second shot at the boy in the premiere.

We all know that Sinbad won't be put to death in the "Pilot" of a series that bear his name, so there is little risk of spoiling things to reveal that he escapes Akbari's prison. But the stakes do seem pretty real anyway, a credit to the writing. SINBAD starts off making us care about the characters, and after introducing us to Sinbad's life for half an episode, dramatically changes it, which is the kick start of the story.

I think it's a good decision to hold off on the main plot until halfway through the hour so that viewers get a sense of who Sinbad is. After all, if he is going to change and become a hero, he has to have a starting point, a pit from which to climb out of, if his journey is to mean anything. This "Pilot" sets that up nicely.

Unfortunately, the follow through leaves something to be desired. After being cursed by his own grandmother (Janet Suzman, Tinga Tinga Tales) to always roam the seas, seldom ever setting foot on land (spurred another plot point I won't spoil), Sinbad wastes no time in making up for his bad deeds. The boat he sets out on encounters some scary water demons, and he pretty much single-handedly saves the day, rescuing almost everyone, and earning himself some new friends.

This comes way too easily. The crew knows what kind of person Sinbad is the moment he steps on board, but after witnessing his somewhat selfless actions, they are won over. This doesn't present any real challenge for the character, not having to fight his way up the ladder, instantly being instantly beloved. I guess it's understandable, as the others have only Nala's (Estella Daniels, Thorne: Scaredy Cat) words to paint a different picture of the lad, she being the only one personally wronged by Sinbad.

Having Sinbad be a hero washes out the personality of the rest of the crew, at least in this "Pilot." The compassionate doctor, Anwar (Dimitri Leonidas, Grange Hill), the funny cook (Junix Inocian), the sturdy crewman, Gunnar (Elliot Cowan, Da Vinci's Demons), and Rina (Marama Corlett, The Devil's Double), a fellow stowaway, all seem like chumps, falling for Sinbad's schtick. Of course, they probably are chumps if not one, but two, stowaways managed to make it on board. But if they are to be as layered as Sinbad, it doesn't happen in this installment.

As such, despite a promising start, I am not won over by SINBAD. It looks fantastic, to be sure, and Sinbad is a legend begging for a good adaptation. But on the heels of other mediocre historical drama efforts, such as Da Vinci's Demons and The Borgias, it blends into the pack, not giving us enough to really make a name for itself.

My hope is that the magic aspect of the series will be played up as the episodes unfold. In that realm is the path for SINBAD to win loyal viewers, establishing itself as an enjoyable genre series. The characters and story just don't have enough depth for it to break into the mainstream, nor to entice me to watch the other eleven episodes.

Should you be so inclined to tune into the series, be warned that SINBAD has already been cancelled in Britain, and these twelve installments will be the only ones one made.

SINBAD airs Saturdays at 9 p.m. ET.

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