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Review: Netflix's 'The Witcher' is a tangled mess of untapped potential

The Witcher.jpg
Henry Cavill stars as Geralt of Rivia in the Netflix seriesThe Witcher (Photo: Netflix)

The Witcher: Season One
2.5 out of 5 Stars
Lauren Schmidt
Based on: “The Witcher” by Andrzej Sapkowski
Starring: Henry Cavill, Freya Allan, Anya Chalotra
Genre: Action, Fantasy
Rated: TV-MA

SALT LAKE CITY (KUTV) – Synopsis: The origin stories of Geralt of Rivia, Yennefer of Vengerberg and Cirilla, Princess of Cintra.

Review: My familiarity with Andrzej Sapkowski’s Witcher stories is based entirely on the countless number of hours I spent playing “The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt” and its expansion packs “Hearts of Stone” and “Blood and Wine.” I’ve never read any of Sapkowski’s stories and couldn’t tell you anything about the narrative of previous games “The Witcher” and “The Witcher 2: Assassin of Kings” that wasn’t directly referenced in “Wild Hunt.”

My unfamiliarity with the previous stories wasn’t nearly the handicap you might expect because “Wild Hunt” was written in a way that gave the player a sense of what came before either through flashbacks or well-crafted dialogue. If you were in the moment, it made sense by the story’s end.

The same cannot be said about the first season of Netflix’s adaptation.

Had I read Sapkowski’s “The Last Wish” and “Sword of Destiny,” the two short story collections that are the source material for this first season, I might better understand the unconventional reasons behind the incredibly confusing structure of the first eight episodes as it tells three intertwined stories in a seemingly random and frequently incomprehensible way. It’s mostly flashbacks, but there is no perceivable timeline, just a spitting of events that happened over an unspecified amount of time (decades). Even by season’s end the three stories hadn’t converged. Had I not already known who Geralt of Rivia, Yennefer of Vengerberg and Cirilla, the Princess of Cintra, were and the basic structure that connected them, I suspect I would have been utterly lost. It certainly doesn’t help that the world of “The Witcher” features at least one doppelganger with multiple identities. I watched the series twice and I think I have a grasp on who was real and who was a copy. Don’t quote me on that.

Even with the bonkers structure, “The Witcher” does provide its share of satirical fantasy fun. Those expecting something serious and brooding may be upset to discover that the tone is more akin to Sam Raimi’s “The Evil Dead” or Mike Mignola’s “Hellboy” than it is HBO’s “Game of Thrones” adaptation of George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series or J. R. R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth books. It’s not a full-fledged parody, but the humor (both biting and cheeky) is most certainly there.

I have no issues with the casting. Anna Shaffer as Triss Merigold is a radical departure from the way the character looks in “Wild Hunt” and initially added to my general sense of confusion, but there’s nothing inherently wrong in the casting. Henry Cavill is quite good as Geralt, Anta Chalotra makes for a beguiling Yennefer and Freya Allan is solid as the young version of Ciri. Joey Batey’s take on Jaskier (AKA Dandelion) is less insufferable than the way the character was depicted in “Wild Hunt,” but given time, I’m sure he’ll sufficiently grate on my nerves.

The general look and production values of the series is solid. There are a few special effect shots that aren’t entirely convincing, but there’s nothing to be embarrassed about.

“The Witcher” isn’t a complete disaster. There’s plenty of untapped potential there. Hopefully the second season will find its focus and won’t ask the audience to try and decipher its story.