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Friday, April 20, 2018

A Little Something for the Weekend

• "Waving Goodbye to The Librarians" By Eric Dontigney

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The Librarians 
Science fiction and fantasy are genres dominated by darkness. It’s inevitable. If you want to raise the stakes and create tension, you need a serious threat. If you’re writing a series, you must progressively double down on the threat level. Yet, as a viewer of SF&F films and TV, the escalating grimdark of it all does one of two things to me. It either wears me down or breaks my suspension of disbelief by turning silly in a non-humorous way.

I cannot binge watch the rebooted Battlestar Galactica without starting to feel depressed. I’ve abandoned all the CW superhero shows because they’ve tipped into un-funny silliness. My solution to this problem for a long time was to watch the show Eureka. It was basically a family-friendly sci-fi show. That meant there was some silliness baked right into the DNA of the show.

Colin Ferguson, who played everyman Jack Carter, vacillated between stunned confusion and physical comedy. There were occasionally dark episodes and themes, but the show never took itself too seriously. It was fun without being condescending. So, naturally, it got canceled. Warehouse 13 tried to capture that same magic, but never quite found it. It leaned progressively more and more into grimdark as it wound its way toward cancellation.

Then, TNT of all networks greenlit a quirky fantasy show called The Librarians. It was a spin-off of the Noah Wylie-fronted Librarian films from the same network. What surprised me, though, was that they beefed up the humor in the show. They very consciously aimed at a family audience and hit the mark more often than not. In a sea of gritty procedurals, here was a show that cast Bruce Campbell (of Evil Dead fame) in a guest role as the actual Santa Claus. It was hilarious and brilliant.

Noah Wylie excelled in his role as the moderately unhinged Flynn Carson, the titular Librarian. Here was a guy who’d been saving the world solo from magical threats for a decade. It took a toll, but they played it for laughs more often than not. He was damaged, but not irretrievably, and driven by an essentially kind nature. The conceit of the show was that what this guy needed was a family, even if it was an ad hoc family thrown together by circumstance in the pilot episode. So they surrounded him with characters as offbeat as himself.

The moral heart of the show was Eve Baird, a NATO commando played by Rebecca Romijn. She was tasked with training and protecting the JV librarians with a combo of tough love, practical advice, and fierce maternal instincts. This job was not made easier by those placed under her care. A morally bankrupt thief named Ezekiel Jones, played to comic perfection by John Harlan Kim. A flighty mathematician and synesthete named Cassandra Cillian, played by Lindy Booth. Rounding out the JV team was oil rig worker and art history genius Jacob Stone, played by Christian Kane. The final member of this odd little family unit was Jenkins, the cranky caretaker of the Library played by the inestimable John Larroquette.

The disparate natures and life experiences of this group did a lot of the comedic heavy lifting and, when all else failed, they could just have John Larroquette toss off an acerbic remark. What this show also did that made me so forgiving of its shortcomings was not taking itself too seriously. When you’ve got a physical powerhouse like Christian Kane on set, it would have been all too easy to turn the show into a dark action show that focused on him. They never did that and here’s why.

The other primary conceit of the show, one that’s almost anathema to contemporary scriptwriting, was that knowledge was the source of power. Physical confrontations were there to keep things exciting. They weren’t solutions, though. Solutions always came out of a character’s understanding of history, art, science, mythology, mathematics, or some combination of the characters’ knowledge. The show elevated being smart into a kind of superpower and it did it without being condescending. When ignorance led to a crisis, the librarians were horrified or frustrated, but never cruel or judgmental.

So, naturally, the show was canceled last month after four seasons and 42 episodes. Granted, that’s a pretty good run for a show about smart people solving problems by being smart. It still makes me a little sad. It’s one less advocate for intelligence in a television landscape that seemingly values brute force solutions above all else. It’s one less show that serves a family audience with lighthearted fare. It’s another victory for an often wearying grimdark aesthetic. My one consolation is that it will survive on DVD and streaming video. So, if you need a break from grimdark and haven’t seen The Librarians, I highly recommend it to you.

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Eric Dontigney is the author of the Samuel Branch urban fantasy series and the short story collection, Contingency Jones: The Complete Season One.  Raised in Western New York, he currently resides in Memphis, TN. You can find him haunting obscure sections of libraries, in Chinese restaurants or occasionally at ericdontigney.com.

Eric’s last appearance in our pages was “Memory Makes Liars of Us All,” in Stupefying Stories #13, his next will be “Lenses,” in Stupefying Stories #21, and later this year we’ll be releasing his paranormal mystery novel, The Midnight Ground. Watch for it! 

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1 comment:

Judith said...

I'd never heard of this. I'll have to see if I can get hold of it because it looks like just my sort of thing. Thanks.