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TV review: Sky1's Sinbad
Elliot Knight in Sinbad. Image: Sky
Sky1's lavish Sinbad is a 12-part action-adventure based on the famous Arabian Nights character, with Birmingham-born newcomer Elliot Knight as the eponymous seagoing adventurer.
A memorable moment was the below decks attack of a creature resembling a dragon made of water. It was an excellent special-effects showcase for the series, and a strong indicator that Sky's thrown money at Sinbad more heartily than most other broadcasters.
There wasn't a truly bad scene worth singling out, although I found Sinbad's grandmother to be an odd character whose motivation for cursing her own grandson never felt wholly believable. Yes, the poor lad made a grievous mistake, but wasn't that mistake punishment enough?
Sky has cornered the market in US drama with Sky Atlantic, and increased their comedy output across the board. Now they turn their attention to weekend fantasy; those teatime shows that have proven successful for the BBC (Doctor Who, Merlin) and ITV (Primeval) in recent years.
"this adaptation of literary classic Sinbad the Sailor feels edgier"
The good news is this adaptation of literary classic Sinbad the Sailor feels edgier than its terrestrial kinsfolks - there's a particularly shocking pre-watershed moment when a young man's throat is sliced open by a sword.
It's also a visual feast thanks to location shooting in Malta and genuinely impressive CGI, although there wasn't much else to get excited about...
Basran hunk Sinbad (Eliot Knight) earns his keep by street-fighting and pick-pocketing with the help of his elder sibling Jamil (former EastEnders star Devon Anderson), to provide for his mystic grandmother Safia (Janet Suzman) and catatonic mother Zahirah (Myriam Acharki).
Sinbad's adventures begin after he unintentionally kills the son of city ruler Lord Akbari (Lost's Naveen Andrews), who enacts justice by killing Sinbad's brother Jamil to even the score, leading to Sinbad's irate grandmother putting a curse on her grandson as further punishment.
Consequently, Sinbad's unable to set foot on dry land for longer than a day, forcing him to become part of a ship's crew, the Providence.
On board, he meets gregarious doctor Anwar (Dimitri Leonidas), tough stowaway Rina (Marama Corlett), gruff crewman Gunnar (Elliot Cowan), and erudite diplomat's daughter Nala (Estella Daniels). Oh, and Denzel from Only Fools & Horses.
Sinbad's on a mission
The problem facing shows like Sinbad is that they've been done so many times, and inspired so much, that they struggle to carve out a unique identity. It takes a writer of considerable vision to add anything fresh and distinctive to a show like this, and I'm not sure Jack Lothian (Doc Martin, Shameless) has anything very inventive and imaginative to shows audiences yet.
Sinbad was what you expected, and little more. Admittedly, all first episodes are weighted by the business of introducing characters and establishing concept -- much of which is predictable fare for a traditional story in a popular genre -- so perhaps future episodes will take a more unusual shape, and the characters will start interacting in less stilted ways.
"Sinbad was what you expected, and little more"
But there was really no reason this first hour couldn't have been smarter with its storytelling.
Firefly's pilot did just as much heavy-lifting, but made it feel effortless and fresh. Maybe a two-part premiere was warranted, as I felt we needed more time spent with Sinbad making friends aboard the Providence.
Sinbad didn't delight me, but it will find an audience in people who enjoy Hallmark miniseries, and like watching undemanding TV shows with beautiful vistas and CGI monsters lurking around every corner.
Credit to Sky for refusing to "whitewash" the titular character (avoiding the Jake Gyllenhaal in Prince of Persia controversy), and for giving us a Middle Eastern hero in a post-9/11 world, but Sinbad needs to prove it isn't going to lazily go through the motions, ticking off clichés... because this genre's so overplayed it needs a strong, unique creative vision to make it stand out. Snazzy digital effects and opulent locations aren't enough.
Sinbad's locations and effects are stunning, and there are no major complaints when it comes to the performances. However, this first episode didn't overcome the fact audiences know the genre inside-out and need something more innovative to hold their attention between the CGI-heavy set-pieces. Only one unexpectedly gruesome death hinted at some bold audacity.
Still, this was a confident start, and there's time to sharpen the character dynamics and make us invest in Sinbad's nautical adventures.
- Verdict: masses of potential as an ongoing drama
The views in this article are those of the author alone and not of MSN or Microsoft
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