Wynonna Earp, the contemporary dark fantasy drama co-produced by the Space and Syfy networks in North America, has received some incredibly vocal support from its online fans, the so-called “Wynonnans”, and a host of mainstream critics since its initial broadcast in 2016. Given its elevated reputation, I thought I’d give the series a binge-watch last night. And what a disappointment that turned out to be. Four episodes into the first season, I gave up on the whole laborious exercise. Despite fervent claims to the contrary, it turned out to be no Jessica Jones, or even close to that surprise hit from Marvel Television and Netflix.
In many ways, the opening scene in the second episode of the Canadian-American show are emblematic of its creative shortcomings. The lead character, the eponymous Wynonna, a female descendant of the infamous Wild West gunslinger Wyatt Earp, confronts a “revenant” or revived corpse in a thronged nightclub, where he is fondling a young women in tight dress while her friend stands nearby. Seeing the approach of the newly deputised ghoul-killer, the otherwise innocuous-looking man pulls the girl’s hand to his mouth, exposing his canine-teeth. In the blink of an eye a nail-varnished finger is bitten off, the blonde emitting a mild shriek before moving out of camera, her companion in tow. The zombiesque male then wiggles the severed digit like a cigar between his fingers, presumably to illustrate contempt for his oncoming adversary, before beating a hasty retreat through the jostling crowd.
As the camera pans across the dance-floor we see the accosted female duo at a bar, backs towards us, blonde heads down, presumably examining the wounded hand. There is no pained screaming, shocked hysterics or spurts of blood. Just two eye-candy actresses loitering rather aimlessly in the background of a scene because the writers couldn’t be bothered to give them anything else to do. Instead, the viewers attention is expected to focus wholly on the “humorous” interplay between the demon and the would-be demon-hunter.
Hardy har har.
It’s B-movie plotting and representative of the show’s overall tone. Yes, it is great to see women in leading roles, driving the story rather than being the usual Hollywood ride-alongs, but that welcome aspect doesn’t excuse the dramatic failings of the series. What follows is a succession of disjointed scenes and occurrences stitched together to form a loose and rather stale narrative. It’s evident that in several situations, the writers and producers thought to themselves: here is a cool idea. Let’s write it, shoot it, and then somehow tie it together with all these other cool ideas until we eventually have an interesting and engaging tale.
In contrast to the inconsequential, if occasionally darkly humorous, Wynonna Earp, another cult television series, The Exorcist, is quietly proving that supernatural horror and intelligent drama can happily coexist. Inspired by the 1973 cinematic chiller of the same name, the struggle of two demon-battling priests has become very much its own thing, the first season featuring an outstanding turn by Geena Davis, and lead actors Alfonso Herrera and Ben Daniels. I have yet to watch the latest episodes but I am looking forward to doing so.
As for Wynonna Earp, I suppose I might be generous and give it another go. But with so many excellent genre and mainstream shows on television – terrestrial or streaming – it is difficult to justify giving one’s time over to something which almost immediately disappoints.
Sidenote 1: If ever an idea deserves a full TV series it is “Metalhead”, the post-apocalyptic episode in season 4 of Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror, not least for a typically brilliant performance by the British actress Maxine Peake. Now, there’s a story and character I’d happily watch again (if she survived her seeming end).
Sidenote 2: The fantastic Southern gothic novels of the American author James Lee Burke are screaming out for dramatisation. If you haven’t read any of his works, do so. You won’t be disappointed.