There are more reasons than ever to cheer the return of one of my favorite Friday night shows, “Wynonna Earp.”
I don’t call it a Friday night show because that’s the day that it arrives on my DVR. “Wynonna Earp,” which chronicles a gun-slinging woman’s attempt to put down demons in an unlucky town called Purgatory, is on a short list of shows that I eagerly look forward to when I hit the end of another challenging week. (They’re all challenging lately, am I right?)
As my mental batteries run down (and as I make an effort to recharge them in order to get through my weekend to-do list), there are a number of fun, adventurous, smart, and goofy shows I turn to for comfort, quips, well-crafted characters, and the kind of solid escapism that’s grounded in something real.
In genre and tone, “Wynonna Earp” is not even close to being a carbon copy of the other shows on my Friday-night list, which includes — but is not limited to — “One Day at a Time,” “Master of None,” “Killjoys,” “Black-ish,” and “Jane the Virgin.” (I’ve hoarded new episodes of all these shows like the treasures they are.) Though their primary mission is to entertain — and they do that well — through sturdy, smart, and witty storytelling, they consistently celebrate values I cherish.
As I wrote that, I could picture the wisecracking heroine at the center of “Wynonna Earp” rolling her eyes and making an “L”-for-lame sign with her fingers. So I won’t get too fancy; I’ll just say that this plucky show kicks ass in many ways, and its fizzy brand of escapism is more welcome than ever during this surreal year.
In an effort to lure newbies into “Wynonna’s” orbit, I won’t get into a lot of Season 2 specifics. Suffice to say, the show continues to roll out a monster or two per week, while telling a larger overall story about the awkward and dangerous new alliances and fractures within and against Team Wynonna.
This season, the enjoyment factor is ratcheted up a few notches in a number of ways. During the first season of “Wynonna Earp” (which is available on Netflix), the show took a little while to find itself and settle on a consistent style and tone. That’s not uncommon during debut seasons, of course, and “Wynonna’s” growing pains were never actually painful (the first season is eminently binge-able, so if you need a summer diversion, there you go).
“Wynonna” energetically and wittily blends the conventions of horror, Westerns, and the “Buffy” template and plunks all that down on the snowy Canadian prairie, and the wide-open setting is one of the things that sets the show apart. We’re used to Westerns in which everyone sweats during big showdowns, but on this program, Wynonna (Melanie Scrofano) and her friends wear parkas or comfy sweaters a lot of the time (even cool folks in leather jackets don’t forget their scarves). There are a few off-beat ingredients in this mixture (a key character is an immortal Doc Holliday, who’s played with intent, infectious joy by Tim Rozon), but through careful honing, “Wynonna Earp” has made this particular cocktail work.
That’s a long way of saying that the first four episodes of Season 2 are focused and fun. If you need a weekly treat that takes advantage of every meaning of the word “stakes,” this may be the show for you. And this year, everyone, from the writing staff to the directors to the extremely game cast, has dialed in on exactly how to come at this material.
Given many chances to play new variations on her character, Dominique Provost-Chalkley (Wynonna’s sister Waverly) makes the most of her opportunities. Shamier Anderson (an agent with the secretive Black Badge Division) and Katherine Barrell (winningly earnest local cop Nicole Haught) continue to do fine work, reinforcing in big ways and small how much they care about their fellow demon-fighters, despite an increasingly dire situation for the good folks of Purgatory.
Scrofano in particular has always had a deft way with a quip, and this year, she and creator/showrunner Emily Andras continue to have a lot of fun puncturing and playing around with the rather tired idea of the “strong female protagonist.” Wynonna is a lot of things: Fiercely loyal, hard-drinking, riven by self-doubt, and only too happy to deflect with humor and escape into violence in order to quell her inner psychological demons. She’s the heir to Wyatt Earp and has inherited Peacemaker, a special gun that puts down actual demons, and she really likes to use it, even if she’s far from sure that she should be any family’s — or any community’s — chief defender.
The questions undergirding the season are smartly constructed, and revolve around the fact that Wynonna is thrust even more urgently into the position of den mother, team leader, and town hero, roles that all feel prickly and pressure-filled to her. Should Wynonna try to believe in herself more — as a leader, a sister, a fighter, and an Earp? It sure looks that way, because those around her, despite their own palpable strengths, really need her to step up. Then again, much of the fate of Purgatory depends on her ability to more or less stay who she is, and channel her rage and pain into taking down bad critters. It’s a conundrum the show is never heavy-handed about (especially when a bad guy reveals something creepy about his own hand).
Scrofano does a fine job of letting flashes of her character’s self-doubt show through, while making it clear that anyone (or anything) who comes close to the people she loves will have to go through her first. Just about every relationship — including those involving deftly sketched new characters — is filled with a lot of believable nuances and emotions, and underneath the snow, bullets and blood, that’s the real draw of “Wynonna Earp.” There’s something ultimately celebratory about a show that posits that loving but difficult relationships can sustain and even change flawed people — even those who are not sure they’re worthy of anyone’s trust.
“Wynonna Earp” returns 10 p.m. Friday on Syfy.