TV Review: ‘Klondike’

Klondike TV Review

Discovery makes a solid foray into the scripted arena with its gold-rush miniseries

Discovery stakes a claim on scripted programming with the epic miniseries “Klondike,” and if the lavish production doesn’t quite strike gold, it comes close enough to encourage further exploration. Boasting a first-rate cast, an increasingly engrossing narrative and frequently awe-inspiring visuals, the six-hour saga transports viewers back to the tail end of 19th-century life with a requisite dose of contemporary edge. Given current trends in cable event programming, Discovery could be looking at a ratings bonanza — provided audiences aren’t so fed up with cold weather that watching characters that risk freezing to death to find their fortune is an instant turn-off.

If anything, the recent polar vortex headlines should give viewers a deeper connection to the bone-chilling conditions faced by adventurous pals Bill Haskell (Richard Madden, recovering nicely from the “Game of Thrones” Red Wedding) and Byron Epstein (Augustus Prew) as they head out in search of gold in the Yukon wilderness circa 1897. The mini’s first hour details their harrowing trek, opening in the midst of a perilous avalanche and flashing back to swiftly explain how recent college grad Bill and street-smart Byron went from New York to Colorado Springs to Southern Alaska and beyond.

After facing down both raging rapids and hungry wolves in sequences that play like adrenalized versions of classic Discovery docus, the guys finally settle in Dawson City, a lawless town that serves as home base for countless prospectors, outcasts and shady characters. That’s where the cast expands to include the colorful likes of Sam Shepard as plainspoken do-gooder Father Judge, on a mission to bring religion and morality to the area; and Tim Roth as the Count, a purported English aristocrat attempting to disguise his desperation with an air of wealth and class.

Even more important, especially for Bill, is Dawson’s most beguiling resident: beautiful businesswoman Belinda Mulrooney (Abbie Cornish), who wields the kind of financial savvy and power the Count only pretends to hold. Immediately drawn to Bill’s innocent nature but holding herself at a distance, Belinda begins as an enigma but develops into the story’s richest and most surprising character, and Cornish is spectacular in the role.

While “Klondike” does play a bit like “Deadwood Lite” at times, it’s best to avoid comparisons with the late great HBO drama and take the miniseries on its own terms as sturdy epic storytelling populated by a memorable collection of characters. That impressive roster also includes Tim Blake Nelson as trustworthy bartender Meeker, Ian Hart as oily con man Soapy Smith, Johnny Simmons as wide-eyed aspiring author Jack London (yes, that Jack London), Conor Leslie as seductive prostitute Sabine (charged with supplying some basic-cable-friendly brief nudity) and a standout Marton Csokas as the Superintendent, who lands the unenviable task of trying to bring law and order to Dawson.

After a key player is killed off in night one, the ensuing whodunit provides a foundation for the bulk of the series. Writers Paul T. Scheuring, Rachel Abramowitz and Josh Goldin (working from Charlotte Gray’s historical novel “Gold Diggers”) do a strong job weaving together multiple story strands and flavorful dialogue to showcase various aspects of frontier life. One notable exception: a subplot featuring a local indigenous tribe drawn into the murder investigation is underdeveloped to the point of tokenism.

Additionally, the use of multiple voiceover narrators feels like a mistake. It’s not always easy to tell who’s speaking and risks muddying the point of view, seeing as Madden does a fine job without unnecessary exposition.

But those are rather minor stumbles, and veteran TV helmer Simon Cellan Jones (“Generation Kill,” “Treme”) directs with a steady hand, managing both the vast scope of the great outdoors and more intimate character drama with equal aptitude. Director of photography Mike Eley channels a cinematic feel on the smallscreen, aided by remarkable location work in Alberta, Canada; and production designer Ken Rempel and costume designer Joanne Hansen go to town bringing Dawson City to life.

As the series wraps with definitive endings for all the characters, it appears Discovery won’t be making a return trip for “Klondike 2: The Legend of Haskell’s Gold” — even if ratings go through the roof. Nevertheless, the attention and care the network has shown its first scripted effort bodes well for future endeavors.

TV Review: 'Klondike'

(Miniseries; Discovery, Mon.-Wed. Jan. 20-22, 9 p.m.)

Production

Filmed in Alberta by Discovery Networks, Entertainment One and Nomadic Pictures in association with Scott Free Prods.

Crew

Executive producers, Paul T. Scheuring, Ridley Scott, David W. Zucker, Eileen O'Neill, Dolores Gavin, John Morayniss; producers, Chad Oakes, Michael Frislev, Clara George; director, Simon Cellan Jones; writers, Scheuring, Rachel Abramowitz, Josh Goldin, based on the novel "Gold Diggers: Striking It Rich in the Klondike" by Charlotte Gray; camera, Mike Eley; production designer, Ken Rempel; editors, Oral Norrie Ottey, Kristina Hetherington; music, Adrian Johnston; costume designer, Joanne Hansen; casting, Mark Saks, Rhonda Fisekci, Candice Elzinga. 6 HOURS

Cast

Richard Madden, Abbie Cornish, Sam Shepard, Tim Roth, Tim Blake Nelson, Marton Csokas, Augustus Prew, Johnny Simmons, Ian Hart, Conor Leslie, Greg Lawson

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  1. julie ridge says:

    I am a Canadian history buff and I love to see history done well. And while I respect and often enjoy poetic licenses I was so disappointed when I saw the piss-poor portrayal of Superintendent/General/ Sir Samuel Benefield Steele! (Note the honours bestowed on his name this guy was a big deal)

    Sam Steele was an honourable man. He served in the North-West Mounted Police and was passed-over for promotions because of his distaste for politics. He fought for our Country in two wars ( Boer War,WW1) and served as a frontier policeman often outnumbered policing huge territories with nothing more than a side-arm, a horse, the law, and his wits. He often marched into gangs or huge encampments and took in a wanted man by himself, outnumbered without even unholstering his gun.

    In fact in Dawson City he never unholstered his gun once. Not once. Because he made a point of telling criminals that if he had to unholster his gun, that it was to put them down, permanent.

    Sam Steele never got the recognition or respect he deserved even from his own government his son Harwood Steele a notable writer was outraged by his father’s recall from Dawson as Steele had done everything asked of him only to be dismissed rudely from his post.

    The citizens of Dawson honoured Steele by petitioning against his recall. when their petition fell on deaf ears they honoured him with a parade and the whole town turned out to his farewell. So while I understand the need for twisting facts to tell a story I am saddened that they chose to dishonour a legendary Canadian patriot, lawman and solider. If such poetic licence was taken to an american hero such as Abraham Lincoln people would be ready to draw blood I’m sure.

    But on an even sadder note Sam Steele never got the honour he was due. And now perhaps your audiences will remember only this awful caricature of him. That’s the real crime here, that a man who dedicated himself to the law and never put a foot wrong all his life was made out to be a weak and corrupt individual. General Sam Steele was my hero growing up and he was a veteran a defender of my rights and my freedoms and I am privileged now to speak up in defence of his good name.

  2. Lisa says:

    They’re on Infinity On-Demand, under TV Shows.

  3. louise says:

    missed all three ,would like to watch them ,will they be back???

  4. Lisa says:

    Belinda’s clothes aren’t in with the time that this was suppose to be set in. Example: isotoner gloves, designer boots with over the knee flaps, tight black leggings, the material on her jacket, collars on her blouses, etc.

  5. Chris Ashcraft says:

    When is Klondike coming back on?thanks Chris Ashcraft olive branch ms

  6. Mark says:

    Unlike most comments on here I was not disappointed at all with this mini series. I think it shows a nice realism to the good rush in Alaska and in the Yukon. I have been a tour guide all around Alaska for the last 8 years taking people all over the state and even up white pass outside of scagway. And it’s always hard to fully visualize the things people had to endure just to get in to the Klondike. I found this show to be very entertaining, and very well put together. If anyone is intrested in going to see Alaska, or needing any advice on the best way to plan a trip feel free to contact me at http://www.explororsociteyandtravelclub.com

  7. CAJ says:

    If it was supposed to be a fictional account, then it was not a bad film. However, the portrayal of the North-West Mounted Police has an incompetent group and the “lawless” nature of the Yukon was inaccurate. Superintendent Sam Steele actually took over from Superintendent Constantine, who had 20 NWMP with him already. The NWMP were in the Yukon in 1898. History shows that Dawson City, although very populous, was actually not a murderous place to be. Besides, there were also numerous other issues with NWMP uniforms; but, clearly the producers did not care to bring in people that actually knew about these things. It was a nice American “fictional” western, but not something that displayed reality.

    • Hugh Danger says:

      I absolutely agree, there could not have been anyone attached to this program for consulting purposes. I have worked on international pieces and have researched the gold rush to the point that even watching the series as fictional was unbearable. Absolutely correct about the NWMP as it seemed like the show was more about Skagway than Dawson.

  8. Debbie Cole says:

    Was so excited to see it………..and really disappointed. Screen too dark on most of it, couldn’t see who was killing who, storyline really hard to follow and seemed like it just jumped around. Hard to understand what was being said also. Even the little information at the end about the characters flipped by too fast and couldn’t even read them all. Sorry, but felt like I wasted 3 nights of tv.

  9. Mike says:

    I wanted to like this mini-series, I really did. The first night was pretty good, and I was hoping for more creativity and development of the actors. Sadly the second night teased us with potential relationships that never panned out, and by the third act, all of the leads were either dead, or their lives ruined, except for the main lead who evidently now owns an Orchard. Nothing is really explained, except the quick and cruel deaths of almost everybody from the first two installments. The killer for me, was when he’s trying to escape on the dogsled, crossing the ice from multiple angles, supposedly deep in uncharted territory, when they slowly cross a ski resort in the background, obvious parking lot and multiple buildings. I’m a graphic artist and I could have masked that in 20 minutes, yet they chose not to bother. Evidently they thought nobody would notice. At the end, after the slaughter at the camp and drowning death of his best friend, I was left wondering why I had wasted 6 hours. Especially when he decided not to pursue either romantic tease from the first episode.

  10. Hugh Danger says:

    Little to no historical value to the entire production except for Ken Rempel’s art direction, Paul Healy’s set decoration and Ken Wills for props. I’ve worked with these guys before and they understand the genre by making what they do into another character of the production.
    The worst thing that can happen to any period piece is when the illusion is broken and this happened constantly in this show despite the efforts of the names mentioned. By turning the lead female character into a Sharon Stone “Quick and the Dead” gunfighter totally washed the show with stupidity.
    In truth, Klondike is really not about Dawson at all but is more about the American side of the Chilcoot Pass. The Mounties just did not put up with any garbage from anyone and the miners knew it.

  11. Hoopy says:

    I really enjoyed watching this for the first two segments… but I felt let down by the end. I was expecting a big & climactic ending, but instead it was just a bunch of sub-quest conclusions. Yes, I know they wanted this to be ultra-realistic, but I didn’t enjoy the fact that every time the characters got some slice of happiness it would get taken away from them in the next scene.

  12. Fran says:

    Actors are good, scenery is breathtaking. Plot is simplistic and formulaic. Details are mixed. Nice shot of the Goddard’s ferry. Unfortunate use of the word “incentivize” which wasn’t in use until the 1970’s. The music felt too modern, even though pleasantly played in the genres of Cajun, 18th century ballads and fiddles. Too many scenes were so dark (OK, I know it was night) that I couldn’t figure out what was happening. Overall, a C+.

  13. Mark Gilbert says:

    i didnt enjoy it at all. I cant wait until it is over and the Discovery Channel returns to their regular fine programming. Maybe better suited for the History Channel or Lifetime, but not on Discovery.
    Please dont ruin the Discovery Channel with programming that doesnt fit.

  14. John Raile says:

    I read Jack London books as a boy and when starting the show I thought Jack London type story. Low and behold Jack showed up.
    Enjoyed the show, I did record it, I don’t stay up too late. The last hour was a bit hoaky with the priest be hauled down the street in his coffin although still alive with a New Orleans type procession.

  15. Mia says:

    We loved the Klondike and had no problem following it. We wish it had been on for more days, we will probably watch it again………….loved it.

  16. Dan Lacy Jr says:

    Garbage. Story line and script jump with no accuracy. Hard to follow the story. Waiting for some fat guy to show up and says the trammel is broken. How did Ridley Scott get involve with this? This ain’t
    Jack London stuff.

    • Patti says:

      I soo agree…this is really hard to follow and there is not back story to the preacher or any of the characters other than the lead…how did these people come to be in the Yukon….really disappointed and well it was work to watch…fell asleep…we love the good wife but really didn’t see the Ridley Scott connection playing well here

  17. Santa says:

    What a mess. And a terrible waste of spectacular video. Storyline is disjointed and difficult to follow the gibberish pawned off as audio. Like watching a foreign language film w/o subtitles. You can follow to a degree, but, is it worth the effort?

  18. JImmy says:

    Tis is a huge disaster – terrible story – terrible acting – there is no direction as though the creator’s thought jumping on the Gold band wagon was a easy as naming 6 hours of garbage “Klondike”. An insult to the intelligence of the viewer and the best reason I have had to cancel my Direct TV- the creativity is gone.

  19. dave bergum says:

    impossible to follow and even harder to believe, falls out of the boat in the river in the middle of nowhere crawls to shore and is being chased by wolves again in the middle of nowhere and somebody walks into the woods to shoot the wolf in mid jump before it attacks him? prostitutes hauled into primitive alaska are gorgeous and dressed like queens? way too much stupid unbelievable stuff to even be able to get interested one word awful waste of time.

  20. DBRown says:

    Had a lot of hope in this being familiar with the Alaskan Gold rush… It seems like they’re trying to cover too much ground to quickly. It skips and jumps, sometimes without a good grasp on why things are happening (the lake/boat/river scenes for example). Seems to be a wonderful cast, but again, the story line is jerky and they don’t establish situations well. Too scattered, too thin of a storyline. This needed to be a series, not a mini-series. Something more along the line of Hell on Wheels.

  21. rd stanford says:

    I really had a problem with how things jumped around. Huge lapses in time. Odd how in the river and wolf act after the wolf is shot by the preach the main sees his partner with the boat intact on the other side of the river. Next scene main character on the same side of the river as the partner and no explanation of how that happened. Lot’s of holes like this. Second hour. No fire wood to be found in the middle of the Canadian forest. Main character almost kills a guy over a piece of wood but drags him back to his family, the heroine shows up with a wagon load of wood, the main character gives two pieces of wood to the destitute family, two pieces. for no reason the horses gets loose from the wood wagon, the wagon slides down the hill, and the two main characters decide it’s a good time to go to bed and screw. Really? What about the valuable horses and wood wagon. Who directed this train wreck?

    • SMH says:

      I don’t think you have ever been in a forest. I live in Alaska and I NEVER take any firewood with me and have yet to not be able to start a fire with ease …. if you know where to look there is good dry wood all over the place. You probably don’t know this, but Birch bark, even when wet, is extremely flameable because of all the oils it contains. Try to Google Earth the middle of a Canadian forest and figure out where the wood ISN’T lol
      so instead of assuming how things work, go out and actually try them and they might make sense

  22. David H says:

    So far so good, sure beats the show that introduced us to it, from a big, no huge let down to a great show! It looks so real makes me wonder just how bad it really was. Going across that pass must have been crazy. I kept thinking about the new boots and not only getting blisters because I know they were not the right size but how slippery they were. I can’t find anything wrong with the show perfect so far! Lol I want more and I’m not one for watching shows that make sense but non scripted ones. Gold Rush just took a dive for me, it went from a show i just couldn’t get enough of to a Dam soap opera on one hour. I refuse to watch it again until they get rid of Todd and that jungle crap I’m sure everyone agrees with me that at the end they had his stupid Ass shot of Toad, Whoops Todd standing there on the phone with the Man begging for another chance to redeem himself and not told to go home,! Oh Brother lol give us a break, the guys on earlier episodes couldn’t even get a signal, it showed them hooking wires to shovels to use them as antennas, and this guy is walking around talking, what a bunch of crap. I’m done, come on series of Klondike to take their place.

    • Mia says:

      Looks like we’re one of the few that loved it. As for “fricking” Todd…………..I cant watch him anymore.

    • DBRown says:

      Read Mischners “Alaska”. A fiction that starts when the mammoth roamed Alaska and progresses through history. Great story, covers this era in a wonderful story line.

  23. Cynthia says:

    I didn’t finish watching it because of the geico in the top left and the countdown on bottom right it was very distracting

    • norman says:

      you know i am so sick of lizards pigs and other cute sayings to sell insurance, the tallest building in the us are owned by them and the stadiums but we have to have government employees insurance company

  24. UA Bear says:

    Good story line, but just doesn’t seem to flow well at times. It’s entertaining, love Abbie Cornish, but not quite at the level of other cable network productions. i.e., HBO mini series

  25. Lindsay says:

    The tlinget first nations were a part of southern yukon, not here in dawson city. it was the Han and the Gwitchen that were in Dawson’s history.
    Dawson has been very excited to watch the show, and for the most part it was satisfying. Nice to see familiar buildings, even though it’s a set :)

  26. simul8guy says:

    @Rich – No such thing as a 25 hour day pal. They’re all 24 hours the world around. Maybe you’re confusing “25 hour” days with 24 hours of daylight that far north. I agree with you about poor historical research. Should be no raging blizzards in the Yukon at the end of June (even in 1897 before global warming). A few issues with the cost of things back in 1897 as well. A dollar was worth 33 times more back then than it is today. Which means the $750 ‘stake’ they started their Yukon adventure with was equivalent to $25,000 in today’s dollars. Given the fact that the story starts with Byron losing some form of Chinese gambling games one wonders where they obtained that much cash.. I enjoyed the first episode despite the obvious historical problems.

    • Rich says:

      simul8guy – if you read my next post it shows a correction to 24 hours as 25 was a mis-type. Trust me as a resident of the north I know exactly what it is like here and what the real history is and how it should look.

  27. Gloria Kirby says:

    I love Klondike, but would love it even more if the background music weren’t so LOUD…..that is the main complaint here at work that you missed so much of the dialog because of the music. Why do so many networks think it is necessary to have the background music so loud??? I have quit watching shows because of this problem. We want to see and hear the show not listen to the music that is so distracting.
    Thank you.

  28. Bob Austin says:

    I disagree!! Klondike was, and will be a hit!!! There will be a second season! I just want more and more!!

  29. Rich says:

    OK 1st part just ended and I am done with it. Could have been an excellent period piece with some great historical information but instead it was turned into a Clint Eastwood movie. Stupid Hollywood types!! I won’t waste my time watching the rest.

  30. Rich says:

    And one other thing, it wasn’t the Wild West where there was endless gun violence. Shootings were rare and while life was hard people weren’t out to screw each other over but instead there was a sense of community and a realization that everyone was in the same boat and needed each others help to survive. Only a few rotten buggers were around and they didn’t last long. Aargh. Do some research.

  31. Rich says:

    Oops. Days are nearly 24 hours long.

  32. Rich says:

    I was really looking forward to this mini-series but watching it now I am really disappointed. I hate it when Hollywood types don’t do proper research. There are scenes dated as June and July where they are in full blown winter scenes. If they did some research they would have known that at that time of year days are nearly 25 hours long and temperatures can easily reach 80 -90 Fahrenheit. The snow in the valleys is all melted and while you might catch a snow storm on the passes at that time of year it is more likely not and the small alpine wildflowers are coming into bloom. The bugs are rampant and horrible and the Northern Lights are not visible during the summer equinox. Whoever wrote this knew nothing about the north and didn’t make the effort to find out.

  33. Randall Dodds says:

    when my sons were young I joined the calif. prospectors associasion, and got a pan and a bumper sticker so my boys and i set out panning, lol wasn’t long we had color in the pan 100% pyrite (lmao) aka fools gold, we didn’t do much more panning its hard work with very little pay off not like in 1849.

  34. Randall Dodds says:

    Huge Fan of Gold Rush Same Maker of Klondike just watched episode 1 and it was Rivoting cant wait til tomorrow nite for episode 2 always been a want-to-be prospector at heart My hat ioff to you all!!!!!!!

  35. linda bolick says:

    It’s very interesting, so far. I’m enjoying it.

  36. Robert L. Green says:

    avalanche

  37. Tom Allen says:

    So far, so very good

  38. Whenever Discovery Channel carries a program, I try not to miss it. I’ve never been disapointed by what you carry. I love the programs having to do with the history of the Klondike.

    • Janice webb says:

      Loved it, watched all 3 nights with anticipation. So much better than the reality crap that I am so sick of. Back to Discovery watching if this is the type of shows they are planning. Ditch the REALITY crap, we’re all sick of it!

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