MTV is getting into the fantasy drama game with “The Shannara Chronicles,” based on the novels by Terry Brooks. The 10-episode series, which premieres Tuesday at 10 p.m., has been compared to “Game of Thrones” and “Lord of the Rings”; it might not be what you’d expect to see from the network that gave us “Jersey Shore.”
Then again, MTV is no stranger to switching things up. There are more than two-dozen books in the long-running “Shannara” series — the first book was released in 1977 and the most recent was published last year. “The Shannara Chronicles” is adapted most heavily from the second book, “The Elfstones of Shannara,” which was released in 1982 (you know, back when the M in MTV stood for music).
MTV tapped Alfred Gough and Miles Millar, the duo behind “Smallville,” to give the complex Shannara universe — filled with elves, gnomes, trolls and a demon army — a modern update.
Here’s a quick primer on what to expect from the series.
What is “The Shannara Chronicles” about?
The story is set in the fictional Four Lands, where a magical tree called the Ellcrys has long protected residents (mainly Elves) from evil demons. An Elven princess named Amberle Elessedil (Poppy Drayton) successfully runs a brutal race called the Gauntlet and becomes one of the Chosen, an order of seven elves charged with protecting the tree.
It’s soon discovered that the tree is dying — each falling leaf represents a demon that can now enter the Four Lands — and that Amberle is the key to saving it. A half-elf named Wil Ohmsford (Austin Butler), a Rover named Eretria (Ivana Baquero) and a Druid named Allanon (Manu Bennett) become a vital part of Amberle’s quest.
The better question might be why not? Given the popularity of “Game of Thrones,” it’s not surprising that the network would want to explore the fantasy genre.
“I kind of like the idea of being first with something,” Brooks told EW in an interview last summer. “I appreciated the strong pitch that MTV made for this and how willing they were to get behind it and support it, and that’s really what I was looking for, more than anything else.”
The network also has experience developing adaptations, though usually of the film-to-TV-series variety with shows like “Scream” and “Teen Wolf.” “The Shannara Chronicles” is reported to be MTV’s most expensive original production ever. For better or for worse, the series feels like a good fit on the network — the dialogue has clearly been written to appeal to a younger demographic and the show has a decidedly MTV soundtrack, anchored by its angsty theme song, “Until We Go Down” by Ruelle.
More than one reviewer has referenced the ridiculously good-looking cast — accessorized down to their elf ears — and Amberle’s wardrobe is a worthy rival to Khaleesi’s collection of going-out tops on “Game of Thrones.”
It’s worth noting that the series also boasts strong female characters. “To play someone who is that willing to fight, despite these social prejudices against her, was incredible and couldn’t come at a more relevant time,” Drayton told USA Today about playing Amberle. “Every day in the news you hear about women fighting for feminism and equality, and really wanting to stand up and be counted.”
So, is the show any good?
As with almost any television show, it depends on whom you ask. Entertainment Weekly says “the world-building is imaginative and impressive, but the mythology is exhausting to keep up with,” adding that “the reward is basically just a romance-novel version of ‘The Lord of the Rings.’ ”
The New York Times called the series “reasonably absorbing.” Though there are a lot of comparisons to be made in a genre that’s growing in widespread popularity, the Times says “this show is best if not overthought.”
For the record, Brooks seems pretty happy with it. The author told EW that an adaptation had been years in the making and that he and his wife had visited the set.
“I think the adaptation is working out just as well as I could have hoped it would,” Brooks told the site. “You try not to get your expectations up too high, but I have to say, I’m pretty hopeful about this whole thing. I think it’s really good.”