The Bastard Executioner is a Game of Thrones Knock-Off in the Worst Way

15 Sep 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

FX’s New, Ultraviolent ‘The Bastard Executioner’ Will Make You Want to Lop Off Your Own Head.

“The Bastard Executioner” 10 p.m., FX Kurt Sutter dials the wayback machine nearly 800 years for his followup to “Sons of Anarchy,” which seems much more suitable to Sutter’s medieval love of torture and bloodshed. Judging by recent history — anecdotal and otherwise — I am something of an anomaly among my critical peers, because Kurt Sutter has never called me a cunt. This is supposed to be a morality play about what lengths man is willing to go to rid himself of authority — in this case, a land-grubbing English army — but Sutter fans will be engrossed in the mystery of where his penchant for colorful heroes and villains has gone.

Over the course of his six years spent riding high on the hog with Sons of Anarchy, Sutter gained a reputation as the most pugnacious of high-profile showrunners, quick to defend his work from insults, perceived or otherwise, with a flurry of his own. Dealing with the sometimes dreary Welsh weather. “I don’t think I’ve ever been in rainier, colder [weather] and we were outside all day,” Moyer tells The Post by phone from Wales, where the FX drama is currently filming. “We were walking through puddles 8 to 9 inches deep.

Lee Jones plays the title character with such moody indifference that he should have ceded top billing to his much more animated horse, and the usually reliable Katey Sagal (Sutter’s real-life wife), is saddled with the role of a mystic who’s been cursed with Europe’s most peculiar accent. Watching him lash out, quasi-apologize, then double down and fight again has been both terrifying and instructive — an occasionally necessary reminder that the people making television are often far more sensitive than the tortured souls they create onscreen. It’s good, but definitely not for the squeamish. “The Mindy Project” released today, Hulu TV shows moving from one network to another was, at one time, common.

There was a river running through our little village [so] that we had to trudge through mud.” In “Bastard Executioner” — premiering Tuesday at 10 p.m. Fall television season, in particular, is reliably full of stinkers, but this year has been a banner one for series so half-hearted and listlessly cynical they emit only the mildly unpleasant aromas of uninspired, bland TV. The violence is disturbing — in one scene, a soldier cradles a still fetus hanging out of his dead wife’s belly — but if you’re in a bloodthirsty mood, keep in mind that season 5 of “Game of Thrones” recently became available on DVD. □ Brattle parries with devious political adviser Milus Corbett (Stephen Moyer, “True Blood”), bonds with Baroness Lady Love Ventris (Flora Spencer-Longhurst) and falls under the guidance of Annora (Katey Sagal, “Sons of Anarchy”), a Slavic healer, after they bond over a shared vision of a divine messenger who claims Brattle has a destiny.

When the local farmers rebel against the Baron’s taxation, Milus’ attempt to quell the rebellion — through the use of brutal force — brings him in contact with Wilkin Brattle (Lee Jones), the series’ titular “Executioner.” “[This] new character arrives in the shire, who I recognize from my past. But the premiere episode is overstuffed, introducing characters as varied as a shepherd/trapper, who loves one member of his flock a little too much, and a mute burn victim, played by Mr. He has a reason to stay [there] and I hold something over him and I’m able to manipulate him a little bit.” If that sounds a bit vague, that’s by design. The Bastard Executioner is monstrously fetid, a mound of gorgonzola stuffed into a dead catfish’s gullet, smoked in sulfur, doused with heavy cream and left to rot for weeks inside a port-o-potty in full sun.

Hulu will release episodes weekly. “Zoo” 9 p.m., CBS You should have known better by now than to sign on to a CBS “limited series” and expect it to give you an ending at the close of summer. At the time, this felt like an impossible number of episodes to catch up on — how naive I was! — and, since we’re being honest, the hyper-violent travails of an outlaw biker gang didn’t sound like my thing. A magical little black girl, with pure white hair, an angel perhaps, appears before Wilkin and tells him “you have a destiny to claim … put down your sword.” A wound on his chest transforms into a little dragon, striking fear into Wilkin’s heart because he has never seen the Khaleesi’s Drogon. Next week’s episode deals with the aftermath of events in the pilot and quickly extinguishes one potentially frustrating plot point — the political adviser is hip to the executioner’s true identity — but the show continues to confuse.

Indeed, I am as innocent and freshly scrubbed as Elen Rhys’s Petra, a Welsh peasant and the beatifically pregnant wife of the show’s titular executioner. Wilkin is convinced by his neighbors—which includes an oddball who is having a sexual relationship with a sheep; the only jokes anyone on this show tells are about bestiality—to lead a little raid on some of Ventris’ men. It has the swords, the mysticism, the dragons, the unexpected deaths, the costumes that are perfectly grungy, the faces with just the right amount of dirt makeup. Milus Corbett, his conniving right-hand man, played by True Blood‘s Stephen Moyer, would love nothing more than to crush them in a more literal fashion.

It even tries to outdo Games at its own game, inventing craposition, a questionable riff on sexposition, in which Baron Ventris discusses plot points while defecating. And we both know there is nothing more dangerous than a Welshman with nothing to lose.” The plot is derived from the real Welsh revolt of 1294-95 against English rule. It can also be seen as a drama about all subjugated people, in conquered nations, reacting with brutal ferocity when pushed to the limits of endurance by their conquerors. Violence begets more violence begets more violence, and thus Westeros is plagued and dying, its best citizens slaughtered or turned into vengeful killers.

This is thanks to some rough personal history: The series opens with violent scenes of Wilkin’s past, when he was a vicious soldier in the English army. So when his neighborhood pals (including characters played by ace English actors Sam Spruell and Danny Sapani) suggest saddling up for a message-sending raid on the taxman, Wilkin agrees to ride along for moral support.

Suffice it to say, when the smoke clears and the veins stop gushing, our man Wilkin ends up undercover within the local English outpost, tasked with dispensing the rough justice of a king he neither serves nor supports. As for its mythology, this is largely dumped on Katey Sagal, who plays Annora of the Alders, a kind of analogue of Game of Thrones’ Melisandre: a powerful witch of questionable motives. O’Byrne’s villainy is affirmed not through his actions in combat but rather those in the commode: Director Paris Barclay’s camera lingers lovingly on both O’Byrne’s scatological grunts and upon the unlucky towel a Welsh servant uses to scrub O’Byrne’s royal backside.

Sagal gives her a terrible accent—Eastern European by way of Britain—and when she speaks to her sidekick, a mute man so badly burned he looks like lizard Voldemort, Bastard Executioner plays like a spoof of medieval knights’ tales, instead of a sober retelling of one. These gory flourishes — and the enthusiasm with which they’re presented, each hack marked with a corresponding slash of electric guitars and a tumble of tribal drums — were enough to send me packing. I’m generally squeamish about bloody kid-murder, and there are plenty of other shows on the air able to explore the contents of skulls without providing literal evidence in the process.

For someone like Sutter, who has wrestled so publicly and so noisily with his demons, the allure of a world in which demons are both literal and slayable is understandable and compelling. This is decidedly not a show for me, but it is someone’s idea of a really cool TV show: lots of sword fighting, lots of brooding men, lots of momentous destiny. The pilot is frontloaded with adrenaline and horror in order to test viewers’ mettle — a test I clearly failed — but also, perhaps, to distract them.

It doesn’t help that Jones is a wan performer, but I’m not sure if anyone could raise Wilkin above the level of noble cipher. (Matthew Rhys, on loan from my beloved The Americans, eats Jones’s breakfast, lunch, and elevenses in his few scenes as a beardy, Welsh brigand.) Freed of his fangs, Moyer appears eager to sink his teeth into a villainous role, and Flora Spencer-Longhurst is sufficiently regal as a sympathetic baroness. Outside of an abundance of violence — and, yes, sheep — I remain unconvinced as to the merits of 14th-century Wales as a dramatic destination. (Sutter and his willing actors do their best, but lines like “To what end does this devilry serve?” are always going to be tough sells, doubly so in the buyer’s market that is contemporary TV.) I understand that life back then was brutish and short, but surely not all of the people were, as well?

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