Netflix has always been ambitious. But where competing streaming services like HBO rather choose quality over quantity, it seems the aforementioned doesn’t always care about that concept. While HBO wins with almost every show they put out there – look at the huge success that Game of Thrones was for many years -, Netflix relies on their very diverse audience and plays it off like a game of roulette, throwing as much out there in the hope something will stick. The streaming service has had some huge success (eg. Stranger Things, Money Heist, Sex Education), but none of those popular series has really changed the television landscape or pushed boundaries, when it comes to entertainment.
Cursed may not be that trendsetter for Netflix. Especially when you look at how little they’ve spent on promoting the fantasy series compared to last year’s ‘The Witcher‘, which makes you think they had no confidence in their newest series whatsoever. Coming from the mind of Frank Miller (director of 300, Sin City), this should attract a certain type of audience. Combine this with the large group of teenagers who grew up watching Katherine Langford in the first season of 13 Reasons Why, and you already expand that audience over two different groups of viewers. Is this Netflix’s Game of Thrones? Not really. But it does manage to capture the scope and atmosphere of something epic on a much bigger scale than we’re used to from Netflix, and that’s very promising for a first season.
Based on the upcoming book of the same name, Cursed is a re-imagining of the Arthurian legend, told through the eyes of Nimue (Langford), a teenage heroine with a mysterious gift. After her mother’s death, she finds an unexpected partner in Arthur (Devon Terrell – Barry), a young mercenary, in a quest to find Merlin (Gustaf Skarsgård – Vikings) and deliver an ancient sword. Over the course of her journey, Nimue will become a symbol of courage and rebellion against the terrifying Red Paladins, and their complicit King Uther.
The first season of this epic saga consists of ten one hour episodes, which seems rather long, but luckily the creative team behind the show found a way to keep viewers intrigued by pulling them in just when it seems the show is slowing down. The very first episode sets the tone for the rest of the season, with unexpected (CGI-)bloody violence, frightening creatures and brief male nudity. The entire season is quite gruesome, especially when it comes to different ways of torture by the religious Red Paladins, who just can’t stand anyone who doesn’t live by their standards. Many arms get chopped off, throats get sliced, witches get burned and the amount of supernatural violence is face-covering grisly. Frank Miller clearly had a say in some of the show’s visuals. For those who thought Cursed would be a slow burn – you’re in for a shock. When a romantic scene does establish itself between all the conniving and killing, it feels deserved and natural.
Its unique way of splitting up scenes, by means of an animated drawing like from a book, seems ill fitting and this probably has to do with the budget that was given. Other than that, every episode is filled with inventive sets and stunning English landscapes to make the story feel even more authentic. A tip for those who are familiar with Lancelot, Arthur and Merlin’s story: leave it all behind. Cursed takes an entirely different route and that’s just the beauty of it all – you don’t know what’s coming. The struggle for power and the moral and social risks involved with holding the magical heavy sword, comes with its own set of warnings. There is a bit of a political angle with the gap between rich and poor and how that exactly plays out while the extremely religious are hunting everyone who’s not of “pure blood”. Lots of intrigues and twists make for “edge-of-your-seat-television”.
At times, there are characters which seem to propagate a number of medieval and fantasy stereotypes, but thankfully, the show didn’t gravitate towards them. The diverse number of ethnicities is wonderful, but when a lesbian couple unexpectedly gets introduced, this side plot quickly turns into very clear queer baiting in which one half of the couple gets lured to the “dark side” and the other half basically becomes a prop. A tad bit problematic for a show in 2020, to just tick a mark without evolving this side plot into something more substantial.
While Langford seems to step away for good from the character that made her famous, 13 Reasons Why’s Hannah Baker, it’s clear she’s taking a giant leap in becoming a more well rounded actor who’s willing to take risks. The rest of the cast do a fine job at exploring and growing their characters, while expendable plot devices quickly seem miscast and luckily don’t get too much screen time to pull the efforts of the rest of the team down. Skarsgård basically plays a more sane version of his character in Vikings, transforming Merlin in the most campy interpretation you’ve ever seen on screen.
The first season of Cursed is one of Netflix’s newest bingeworthy series, filled with beautiful scenery, music, epic action sequences and a constantly evolving cast of characters whose true goals and motivations may not be what they appear to be. It isn’t perfect, but its negatives are greatly outweighed by its positives. Cursed is what The Witcher could have been.
Netflix Review – ‘Cursed’ Season 1
Reviewed on Netflix, July 15, 2020. Rating: 16+ Running time: 10 x 1 hour episodes.
PRODUCTION: A Netflix production. Producer: Alex Boden. Executive producers: Zetna Fuentes, Frank Miller, Tom Wheeler.
CREW: Directors: Jon East, Daniel Nettheim, Zetna Fuentes, Sarah O’Gorman. Screenplay/creators: Frank Miller, Tom Wheeler. Camera: Damian Bromley, James Friend. Editors: Crispin Green, Steve Singleton, Dan Crinnion, William Oswald. Music: Jeff Russo.
WITH: Katherine Langford, Devon Terrell, Gustaf Skarsgård, Sebastian Armesto, Shalom Brune-Franklin, Emily Coates, Billy Jenkins, Peter Mullan, Lily Newmark, Daniel Sharman.