×

‘The Witcher’ on Netflix: TV Review

With:
Henry Cavill, Anya Chalotra, Freya Allan
Release Date:
Dec 20, 2019

60 MIN.

Into the absence left by “Game of Thrones” strides “The Witcher,” perhaps the most credible of several recent attempts to capture its predecessor’s robust claim on audience affections. Like “Thrones,” “The Witcher” is based on an existing series of novels (by Andrzej Sapkowski, whose work has also been adapted into a video-game universe); “The Witcher” also boasts richly expensive visuals and an expansive-seeming world, at least in its first five hours.

What it lacks, though, is tonal consistency. This is a show with moments of drama and of gruesome violence cut through with a glancing humor that too often feels tossed-off and out-of-place in the world the show has created. The show’s dramatic sensibility is intense and indulgent, crafting action sequences whose length bulks out episodes past hourlong running times. Its comic sensibility is puerile and a bit sarcastic. Indeed, Henry Cavill’s “Witcher,” a hunter of supernatural beings, and his frequent scene partner, Joey Batey’s jester and bard Jaskier, can feel like a TV pairing less serendipitously unlikely than discordant — a regular Jon Snow and Butt-Head.

Cavill’s Geralt of Rivia is among a dying breed of witchers, and he faces down his situation with a sort of mournful, cynical gravity cut through with bitter wit. The actor, known for his work as Superman in DC Comics films, is perhaps not built to be a Deadpool-style one-liner machine, and the pitched-down, gravelly affect he adds to his voice makes witticisms drag. I don’t believe someone this self-serious would claim to have had his “ass kicked by a ragged band of elves.” (By contrast, he somehow manages to sell Geralt’s moroseness of being truly alone in his wisdom.) Jaskier’s nattering insertions, asking Gerald in one fraught instance if he’s “perhaps short of a marble,” have the shape of jokes but need either punch-up or to be minimized to allow an overstuffed story room to breathe.

For it’s not just Geralt and Jaskier demanding our attention. This universe feels crowded, often in good ways — we’ll meet some new doctor or local potentate who could, perhaps, anchor a whole episode, and see tantalizingly just enough of them. But the main cast also includes Anya Chalotra as the sorceress Yennefer and Freya Allan as a princess coming into her power; those two occupy not just subplots but entire wings’ worth of story. That leaves “Witcher” episodes both overlong and centerless. There’s not quite enough fully developed characters to make this feel like a big ensemble show like “Thrones,” and so we crave a single center of gravity. The decentralized aspect of “The Witcher,” instead, emphasizes certain faults, like how Cavill doesn’t quite embody the Han Solo aspect of his roguish-hero role enough to hold the screen fully.

It also raises the fundamental question of who the show is for. As a “Witcher” watcher but not a reader, I felt the universe at times both overly broad (in its resistance of the single hero) and a bit narrow. Unlike “Thrones,” it resists allegorical or metaphorical readings, at least at first, and is firmly about what it’s about — magic and myth. That itself is less a flaw than simply design, but it does suggest that the appeal of this series may be limited to those already under its spell.

'The Witcher' on Netflix: TV Review

Netflix. Eight episodes (five screened for review).

Production: Executive producers: Lauren Schmidt Hissrich, Sean Daniel, Jason Brown, Tomasz Bagiński, Jarosław Sawko.

Cast:

Henry Cavill, Anya Chalotra, Freya Allan
, Jodhi May, Björn Hlynur Haraldsson, Adam Levy , MyAnna Buring, Mimi Ndiweni, Therica Wilson-Read, Emma Appleton, Eamon Farren, Joey Batey, Lars Mikkelsen, Royce Pierreson, Maciej Musiał, Wilson Radjou-Pujalte, Anna Shaffer.

More TV

  • Jeanine Pirro

    Fox News Defends Odd 'Judge Jeanine' Broadcast, Citing 'Technical Difficulties'

    Many viewers noticed something was off during Saturday’s episode of “Justice With Judge Jeanine,” particularly host Jeanine Pirro’s disheveled appearance and slurred speech at times. However, a Fox News spokesperson said that “technical difficulties” marred the show’s first at-home broadcast. “Jeanine Pirro was broadcasting from her home for the first time when she encountered several [...]

  • Trisha Yearwood and Garth BrooksMusiCares Person

    Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood Sign On for Impromptu Live CBS Special

    The live-stream home concerts that have become more of a phenomenon during the coronavirus crisis are now crossing over to prime-time TV. In what is being described as an outgrowth of the kind of web shows that Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood have already done, CBS has scheduled an hour-long special, “Garth & Trisha Live!,” [...]

  • Tiger King

    'Tiger King' Ranks as TV's Most Popular Show Right Now, According to Rotten Tomatoes

    Netflix has a tiger tale that has punched into the zeitgeist with “Tiger King,” stocked with a cast of real-life bizarre personalities and sinister plot twists. “Tiger Tale,” a true-crime-style docuseries that debuted March 20 on Netflix, ranks as the most popular current TV show, according to Rotten Tomatoes. It has a 97% critic’s rating [...]

  • La Unidad

    Movistar Plus Pitches ‘La Unidad’ Digitally to International Buyers

    MADRID  —  Telefonica’s Movistar Plus was set to show off a pair of dramas at this year’s MipTV before the market was canceled. Now, Movistar has prepared online presentations on Monday where it will screen episodes of both series as well as conversations with producers and creatives from both series. Each show focus on terrorist [...]

  • La Linea Invisible

    Movistar Presents New Drama ‘La Linea Invisible’ to Virtual Marketplace

    MADRID – Originally planned to premiere alongside fellow Movistar Plus Original “La Unidad” at this year’s MipTV, “La Línea Invisible” will now instead screen for international buyers digitally in an online showcase hosted by the Spanish broadcaster on Monday. From “What the Future Holds” creator Mariano Barroso (“The Wolves of Washington”), the six-part series is [...]

  • John Callahan

    John Callahan, 'All My Children' Soap Opera Star, Dies at 66

    John Callahan, a soap opera star on “All My Children,” died on Saturday morning after suffering a stroke at his Palm Springs, Calif., home on Friday. He was 66. “Your bigger than life, gregarious personality will leave a hole in our hearts forever. We are devastated–my great friend, co-parent partner, and loving father to Kaya,” [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content