Monday, September 21, 2015

Pilot Review: The Bastard Executioner

The Bastard Executioner (FX)
Premiered September 15 at 10pm

It’s fair to say that I and many others would want to know what Kurt Sutter would be up to after “Sons of Anarchy” came to an end. The brutal FX series ran for seven years and explored the depths of humanity through its focus on a northern California motorcycle gang. I would have expected his follow-up project to look something like Denis Leary’s different shows, transplanting the same ideas and banter from a firehouse to a rock band, for instance. I didn’t know much about this show about from its title before I sat down to watch it, and discovering that it has to do with shires in the 1400s in Wales made me considerably less excited. I do watch “Game of Thrones” and don’t necessarily mind a trip back to regal antiquity, but this show is especially dense. I was able to put together who some characters were and how they were related by recognizing actors who stand out to me from the sea of armor and bloodshed contained in this two-hour pilot. First there are two notable “Sons of Anarchy” alumni, Timothy V. Murphy, who played Galen in the show’s final season, as the priest, and Katey Sagal, Sutter’s wife, in an absurd role as the witch, hardly the best use of her talents or a formidable performance from her. I see Sutter himself listed in the cast as well but didn’t spot him in the pilot episode, even though he may well have appeared. The other two major actors, both of whom often have to hide their accents to play Americans, are Brian F. O’Byrne, whose credit as a special guest star gave away the fact that he wasn’t long for this world, and Stephen Moyer, who portrayed Bill on “True Blood” for its entire run, as the most well-connected man in town with a strong head on his shoulders and an apparent fondness for other men. That’s about all I could pick apart in this show that obviously opts for the utmost violence at every opportunity, both in showcasing it on screen and in the concept of executing a known quantity at the drop of a hat because of a stranger’s claims. I’m willing to give it another hour because I remember finding “Sons of Anarchy” dense at the start too, but this seems like a much more difficult uphill battle.

How will it work as a series? Ending with a vivid killing cements this show’s status as living up to its name, and reforming things after a few major deaths is going to take some time. That medieval mess should present plenty of chaos, and involving a witch in the affairs too will only muddle everything since death just isn’t permanent. That sounds exhausting and uninvolving to me, but it could get interesting.
How long will it last? I think that FX feels a certain loyalty to the creator of one of its most successful and longest-running series, and so the network will give it a chance even if it’s not a bona fide hit. The ratings weren’t terrific in the way that other series in recent years have been, and so this one right now is probably tepidly headed towards a renewal, but it’s far from guaranteed since I’m sure the show is expensive to produce,.

Pilot grade: C

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