Why steampunk Riese needs a makeover
Riese: Kingdom Falling is a Hulu exclusive steampunk web-series produced by Syfy. It's very dark, and very steampunk. Unfortunately, that's about all it is.
The first thing one notices is the style, which comes on a bit too strong. I love goggles, gears and floppy hats just as much as the next geek, but the steampunk costume and set-design elements in Riese are gratuitous at the best times, and insulting at the worst times.
Gears and pipes cover everything, even where they make very little sense -like the apparent bit of clockwork on the empresses' tiara and throne.
Nearly every significant character has a pair of goggles on their head, many of them seem to be no more than sunglasses, but in a world so dark (not just thematically: The screen is often at least 60% black) there is no need for them, even the protagonist, a deposed princess fighting for the people, only uses her goggles once, during the first scene of the first episode.
The show has other issues as well. The traveling throughout the world, for example.
While it's frequent to fudge travel times in such stories, as it is often inconvenient for characters and messages to take weeks to travel, but often this is not applied so unfairly as it is here, where the protagonist might take three weeks to travel to the next town, but the villains can cross the entire empire in what seems to be mere moments.
The fight scenes are Xena-esque. Poorly choreographed, and with no blood or any other convincing effects. I thought that we all learned with the failure of Legend of the Seeker that non-violent fight scenes in a fantasy adventure are just kind-of dumb.
I mean: I'm not looking for gallons of spurting blood, but when someone gets stabbed through the abdomen, and must be shoved of the the end of your sword with one foot, that sword should glimmer red, not silver. Fortunately, this is one place where the show does improve over the course of a few episodes, as the fight scenes become more believable and slightly bloodier.
The episode length also gives me issue, but that's a problem I have with almost all web-series.
It seems like writers infrequently understand how to pace a show with 10-15 minute episodes. This show is paced to hold a standalone arc every 40 minutes, which to me says that it would have been better if they had simply made a few 40 minute episodes instead of 10 short episodes.
None of this, however, compares to the most egregious issue, the decision to have the show narrated. Amanda Tapping is all well and good, and I know that she's a popular star among geeks, but I did not hear one narrated word which was essential to the understanding of the story.
It's as if the writers thought that their audience might be criminally stupid, and in need of having every minor plot point explained to them in a familiar, soothing voice.
I admit that the final episode was finally a bit intriguing, and I would like to know what they intend to do with this property, as they have left it in a cliffhanger.
I want Riese to be better. I want to see a good Steampunk fantasy hit the mainstream, or at least close too it, but if what they had on display here is the blueprint for an eventual television series, they need some serious reworking to many of the show's elements.