So last week saw the premier of FX’s new show, the Bastard Executioner. The previews I’d seen were pretty vague, but I figured it was worth a stretch on the DVR,
The short version: Someone has been watching Game of Thrones and learning all the wrong lessons.
The basic premise is pretty pedestrian: 14th century England. A knight dies on the battlefield but is healed by an angel of God and told to lay down the sword. He takes up the quiet life of a farmer in a small village until the evil Baron forces him and his neighbors to take up arms (and hoods) and discourage the tax collectors. Naturally, this plan eventually goes array (you think?) and the Baron sends men to the village to slaughter all the women and children (including the knight’s wife and unborn child). In shock, anger, and…surprise (?), the knight once again takes up the sword and swears revenge.
I could go on, but that gets us into spoilery territory. But, c’mon! Does anyone else see this problem with this premise?
In the first 15 minutes, we are witness to a low budget interpretation of Braveheart, the bad guy finishing off on his young bride, and the bad guy taking a dump while consulting with his henchman. Here’s the worst of it: 90% of this stuff should be regulated to off-camera business. The opening credit sequence is a montage of medieval torture devices, smeared with blood and gore. Maybe I’m getting soft in my old age, but watching the slaughter of women and children on screen doesn’t make me hate the villain, it makes me wonder what sad perversions the writers are attempting to feed the audience. Blood and circuses, hold the circus. No, we have to get down in the muck to show how adult and gritty we are.
I get it. Game of Thrones is big on HBO. It’s a gritty, bloody, and doesn’t flinch from the…unpleasantness of the age. But as ugly as Thrones can be, those writers know that for the unpleasantness to be truly unpleasant, you have to hold something back. It’s like profanity. In a book or movie riddled with profanity, you don’t blink an eye with someone drops the F-bomb. But Indiana Jones says “shit” once and he has your attention. Because that’s the only bad word (in English, anyway) in the whole 2 hours of Raiders of the Lost Ark.
So here, in the Bastard Executioner, the distasteful, vile, and bloody are heaped on us with abandon. And I’m sorry, that doesn’t make me want to stay in your world. It doesn’t make me hate your bad guy. It doesn’t make me respect your hero. In fact, it does the exact opposite. Now, maybe I’m asking too much, but I don’t think so. In the past two decades, FX has dished out some of my favorite shows. The Shield was masterful. Justified was a gem.
You’ve shown me a vile and bloody place, and then expect me to be outraged when vile and bloody things happen.
Oh, and the villain’s consultant buggering the piss boy (more like early 20s, don’t worry – just a nod to the rest of you History of the World, Part 1 fans!)? Really? I thought we’d gotten past the whole “homosexual = EVIL” thing. Or wait, is this another way of showing how grown up we are?
Now, could the Bastard Executioner turn into a decent show…sure. The first episode is a pilot. And no bad pilot has EVER gone on to become a good show, right? Episode two is waiting on the DVR now. But just like the Baron’s latrine aid, I feel like I’m going to end up holding a cloth full of royal shit.