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REVIEW: ‘The Witcher’
Joey Batey, Anya Chalotra, Freya Allan and Henry Cavill attend the premiere of the Netflix series "The Witcher" (Wiedzmin) on December 18, 2019 in Warsaw, Poland. (Photo by Andreas Rentz/Getty Images for Netflix)
Andreas Rentz/Getty Images for Netflix

Based on a popular collection of fantasy novels and stories by Andrzej Sapkowski and an even more popular video game trilogy, Netflix’s “The Witcher” seemed primed to be a possible heir to “Games of Thrones.” At least, that’s the hype Netflix hoped for. Instead, the show comes across more like “Hercules” a la Kevin Sorbo sharing ale with “Xena: Warrior Princess” at some dimly lit tavern on the outskirts of Winterfell.

The fantasy series builds around the character Geralt of Rivia, played by Henry Cavill. Essentially, Geralt is a “witcher” who wanders a land known as The Continent fighting monsters for money. Witchers are apparently superhuman mutants forged by science and magic imbued with special powers.

Sadly, all that science and magic could not afford a better wig for poor Geralt. That mop was forged in the fires of The Hair Club For Men before being gussied up by a local taxidermist. Honestly, it should be registered as a service animal, but I digress.

Hairpieces aside, Cavill does a fine job as Geralt. The actor is a huge fan of “The Witcher” universe, and it shows. Apparently, Cavill hounded Netflix for the lead role. He nails the stoic, gruff disposition of Geralt and remains the most compelling and entertaining aspect of the new series.

Two other characters remain the focus of “The Witcher” as well. Anya Colatra plays Yennefer, a sorceress mired in bitter existential ruminations and Geralt’s budding love interest. Ciri, played by Freya Allan, is a teenage princess on the lam desperate to find her potential savior in Geralt. Their character arcs are quite uneven so far, though maybe that’s to be expected in the first season of any show.

Given author Sapkowski’s Polish origins, it’s not surprising that “The Witcher” draws from a fair amount of European and Eastern European folklore. The creatures that infest The Continent are often directly inspired by centuries of myth and legend. With that in mind, some of the multicultural castings of characters seem a tad bit odd. On one hand, it’s a fantasy series, so who really cares. On the other hand, Netflix is so desperate to appear “woke” it feels like they are trying to fill some silly quota.

As for the plot, complexity does not benefit the show at all. The odd timeline in “The Witcher” is more confusing than clever, and creates a somewhat incoherent brand of storytelling. The show simply works best as a fantasy procedural. As much as “The Witcher” wants to wow us with unusual narrative schemes, the show is at its best when it sticks to a more episodic monster-of-the-week formula. It’s far more entertaining and Cavill’s charm shines through when the show doesn’t take itself too seriously or try to compete with shows like “Game of Thrones” or “Westworld.”

Also, showrunner Lauren Hissrich seems to think that gratuitous nudity lends seriousness and sophistication to the show. Instead, it comes across as garish and trite – not to mention that if a man had been at the helm of “The Witcher,” he’d be burned at the stake for some idiotic variant of toxic masculinity with all those bared breasts.

Finally, it must be said that the theme song, “Toss A Coin To Your Witcher,” is simply insufferable. Sung by Geralt’s bard and sidekick, Jaskier, it runs through most of the first season and continues on in your head for days like some neurotic tick. The song sounds like some noxious mashup of Panic! At The Disco and Engelbert Humperdinck. Sadly, many consider it epic. Rest assured, it’s going to be played to exhaustion at Renaissance Fairs throughout the land this summer amid clouds of patchouli and rank body odor.

Countless mixed reviews aside, “The Witcher” remains a bona-fide hit for Netflix at the moment. It’s certainly watchable and entertaining on the level of, say, binging frozen pizza and ice cream. You will more than likely enjoy it, but you might feel a bit ill afterward.

Related: REVIEW: ‘The Mandalorian’