×

TV Review: ‘Vikings’

History’s latest voyage into the scripted seas, “Vikings,” is sort of an unrelenting cheese-fest, and as constructed, that’s not a bad thing. Created by “The Tudors'” Michael Hirst, the nine-episode series offers a bawdy, not-quite-pay-cable-strength look at these Scandinavian scavengers — a more simpleminded version of “Game of Thrones,” since there are only two combatants vying for power. Still, those willing to put their brains on autopilot will find the serialized story pulling them along like a steady tide, potentially furthering the channel’s inroads into successfully bastardizing its brand by redefining “history” to mean, “Whatever attracts younger demos.”

In a way, the basic plot resembles the prologue of “2001,” this time with a bearded barbarian discovering a tool that bestows power upon him within the tribe and threatens the existing order.

Only instead of a club, Ragnar (Travis Fimmel, who starred in the WB’s short-lived “Tarzan”) has acquired a sundial, allowing him to brave sailing west to sack and pillage, instead of more customary raids of the played-out Baltic lands to the East. The suggestion does not sit well with the Earl (Gabriel Byrne), who rules against such an undertaking, only to have Ragnar and a hardy band — including his bruising brother Rollo (Clive Standen) — circumvent those orders and set off to ransack what turns out to be England.

Ragnar’s triumphant return — with plunder and a captured priest (George Blagden) in tow — only makes the Earl more suspicious, setting in motion an eventual faceoff. Along the way, we’re treated to all kinds of insights into the Vikings’ warrior culture, where rape is considered a spoil of war, and Ragnar’s wife (Katheryn Winnick) is every bit the sword-wielding badass he is.

While this isn’t a particularly deep dive into history, and makes no pretense of such, there are enough bloody battles to leave Fimmel with crimson streaks across his face for what seems like half the running time of the five previewed episodes. That said, the producers engage in a bit of a cheat by presenting Ragnar as a more enlightened savage, participating in less wanton slaughter than his fellow travelers, in order to help him remain somewhat sympathetic as the story progresses.

If it’s not high art, the moody exercise (like “Tudors” shot in Ireland, with an appropriately dreary look courtesy of cinematographer John Bartley) achieves a level of atmosphere and momentum that makes it work as a mild diversion, and the plot and pacing pick up in subsequent hours.

Vikings have always lent themselves to a certain kind of “B” entertainment — witness the 1958 movie “The Vikings,” a scenery-chewing feast starring Kirk Douglas and Tony Curtis — and this latest iteration proves no exception. Moreover, History has paired these plundering polytheists with the miniseries “The Bible,” which contains enough slaying, slashing and coveting to make them oddly compatible.

Taken together, those factors should provide “Vikings” a chance to reward History with more Nielsen booty — and embolden the network to continue braving the scripted world’s unpredictable currents.

Filmed in Ireland by Octagon, World 2000 and Take 5 Prods. in association with Shaw Media, and distributed by MGM Television. Executive producers, Michael Hirst, Morgan O’Sullivan, John Weber, Sherry Marsh, Alan Gasmer, James Flynn, Sheila Hockin; producers, Steve Wakefield, Keith Thompson; director, Johan Renck; writer, Hirst.

Camera, John Bartley; production designer, Tom Conroy; editor, Aaron Marshall; music, Trevor Morris; visual effects, Julian Parry, Dennis Berardi; casting, Frank Moiselle, Nuala Moiselle. 60 MIN.

With: Travis Fimmel, Gabriel Byrne, Jessalyn Gilsig, Gustaf Skarsgard, Clive Standen, Katheryn Winnick, George Blagden.

TV Review: 'Vikings'

More TV

  • Arrow -- "Fadeout" -- Image Number:

    TV Ratings: 'Arrow' Signs Off to Low Numbers

    The CW was likely hoping that “Arrow” would sign off with a TV ratings bullseye, but the series finale failed to draw a large audience missed the mark a little. Stephen Amell officially brought out his bow one last time, and 723,000 total viewers tuned in to watch, which represents almost a 20% drop from [...]

  • 'The Quest': Disney Plus Revives ABC

    'The Quest' Revived as Disney Plus Brings Back ABC Fantasy Reality Show (EXCLUSIVE)

    Disney Plus is reviving “The Quest,” a critically acclaimed but short-lived fantasy reality series that aired on ABC in summer 2014. Casting is under way for a new version of the series, which will now focus on teenage contestants. “The Amazing Race” executive producers Bertram van Munster and Elise Doganieri are back as executive producers [...]

  • John Stankey

    AT&T's John Stankey: TNT, TBS to Boost Unscripted Volume as WarnerMedia Invests in HBO Max

    The march to the launch of HBO Max in May is driving changes across WarnerMedia. John Stankey, AT&T chief operating officer and WarnerMedia chairman, told investors on Wednesday that cable powerhouses TNT and TBS will lean into more unscripted programming as WarnerMedia steers its investment in high-end scripted programming to the nascent subscription streaming platform. [...]

  • BBC to Cut 450 Jobs in

    BBC to Cut 450 Jobs in News Division

    The BBC is to cut 450 jobs in its news operation as part of a cost-cutting exercise. The BBC, which remains the U.K.’s most widely consumed source of news, said it planned to reorganize its newsroom along a “story-led” model, focusing on news stories more than on programs or platforms. This is designed to reduce [...]

  • Bud Light Super Bowl Ad

    Bud Light Asks Super Bowl Viewers to Pick the Ad They Want to See

    Most Super Bowl advertisers put a glitzy commercial in the game and hope for the best. Anheuser-Busch wants viewers to have a stake in the pitch that gets presented on Game Day. Bud Light made two different ads starring Post Malone, and is asking fans to help pick which of the pair ought to run [...]

  • good-morning-america-strahan

    At 'Good Morning America,' Robin Roberts Maintains Her 'X-Factor'

    Robin Roberts used to play basketball in college. She says she’s still building muscles while working at “Good Morning America.” The ABC morning program is many things all at once. It’s a news program. It’s a pillar of the economics of ABC’s parent Walt Disney. And increasingly these days, it is a broader media entity [...]

  • Gabrielle Carteris SAG AFRA PRESIDENT

    SAG-AFTRA Unveils Guidelines for Intimacy Coordinators

    SAG-AFTRA has unveiled the guidelines for intimacy coordinators who are on sets when union members’ work involves nudity and simulated sex. The union released “Standards and Protocols for the Use of Intimacy Coordinators” on Wednesday, six months after announcing that it would standardize the guidelines for such scenes. “SAG-AFTRA believes that implementation of these standards [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content