I’ve made some posts, and sly comments, about the new Discworld series based on the city watch series of books. My intention was to skip them entirely much the same as I have done for season 2 onward of Discovery. However now reviews are coming in and some are suggesting that this might not be the worst thing in the world at all. So I shall journey to a distant, and second hand, set of dimensions to watch ….
Just like Discovery I’m not going to try and list off all the differences or I’d be here all day. So let’s just say that the setting has had a facelift to help set it apart from the Game of Thrones and Wheel’s of Time going on. It’s now a post apocalyptic, steampunk, cyberpunk, grunge fest. If that sounds a little jumbled and confusing then it is. For instance just like in the books cameras work based on tiny little goblins inside painting pictures. Unlike the books this seems to be done on digital screens that can be scrolled through as easy as your smart phone. This conflicting mess extends to the characters too. For instance we have Carrot going through, what should be, a heart touching scene as he realises that he was sent out from his dwarven home for the crime of being too tall. This is mere seconds before we find out that Cheery Littlebottom, played by Jo Easton-Kent, is an actual dwarf, rather than adopted, and appears to be all of a few inches shorter than Carrot if my eyes are to be believed. This leads to a really stupid scene; where Carrot is walking the streets with Angua and literally explaining the pun of his name to her simply because it no longer works. Or maybe it does and the writers wanted to show that they understood Pratchett’s humour. Because I don’t think, in all of his books he ever felt the need to explain the joke.
I say this scene was due to be heart string tugging but the whole episode feels so disjointed that it’s hard to get invested in anything. Some scenes run too long and many run too short with fancy cuts and scene transitions to make you think the whole thing is more lively and engaging than it truly is. But let’s go back to the beginning; as the whole episode is Vime’s life flashing before his eyes before he meets what passes for his maker in an excuse for some exposition. The episode, and dare I say the first series, is seeming to adapt the first city watch book ‘Guards Guards’. However the series seems free to treat the entire run as up for grabs. We start with young Vimes, Carcer, and Keel with a magical storm happening over Unseen University, which books readers will recognise, broadly, as elements from Night Watch. Likewise the core watch cast are made up of Angua, Detritus, and Cheery, from Men at Arms and Feet of Clay, leaving out Nobby and Colon altogether. Now unlike a lot of Discworld fans I can understand and appreciate this. By the end of the series both Fred and Nobby were comedic relief that were broadly left to the side lines and if you are trying to adapt the books for 45 minute television slots it makes sense to leave them out. If we’re gonna talk about poor character adaptations however I think the award goes to Lady Sybil Ramkin.
An older woman, who gets involved in the Watch’s quest for a missing library book, is here aged down because our male lead has to have a younger, conventionally attractive, woman on his arm. Here she is a bad ass vigilante who seems to be trying to step up to fill the gap left by the Watch and general law and order. I think the reason for this comes back to the pacing. The first book had the titular guards investigating the crime scene, coming to the conclusion of dragons which leads them to lady Sybil who homes swamp dragons. We don’t have time for that in this show and in fact we don’t have time for anything.
Some of you may remember that I stated, a long time ago, that out of the three Sky adaptations ‘The Colour of Magic’ was the worst by far and this was, in part, due to trying to do two books at once. This show will have eight episodes in series one but is not jus trying to adapt the first city watch novel but the entire line. This leaves this feeling very much like a pilot. Every member of the watch is given a nice, tidy, little summary that feels very awkward and unnatural. People call out the bonding in ‘New Mutant’s but this does the same thing in the first half hour. Angua kindly explains, and demonstrates, that she is a werewolf as though that would be deciding factor as to whether I stick around for the next episode. We set this up with the damaged door in the basement but we can’t wait to pay this off at a more dramatic moment later because it seems we’re worried about being cancelled mid episode. If these guys had Chekhov’s gun they would have used it for a fancy, James Bond style, gun barrel opening sequence.
The biggest victim of this, narratively, could well be Cheery. In the books dwarves have males and females but they do not like to admit this and thus officially everyone is male. This could have been fun to explore but I guess Orville is already doing that so there is little need. Anyway as Cheery spends more time in the melting pot that is Ankh-Morpork and the eclectic cast of the Watch she decides that she wishes to present as a she. This starts with things like pronouns and extends to dress and the way she acts. However because this series has so many books to fit in we’ve done all that before episode one making it look like her character arch is already done and dusted. Now it’s possible that only the Watch themselves are this enlightened and should she go anywhere else we may see some push back on her presentation though as previously noted, considering she is taller than Angua, how anyone would know this is a dwarf at all I have no idea.
If you are a fan of the books then you know where the plot is going, even with the changes, and you are free to get annoyed at all the alterations. Or, as the writers had probably hoped, laugh at all the little references thrown in such as Vimes ending up too sober near the start of the show. The thing is that when you are adapting a book I won’t be pointing excitedly at the screen, “squeeing”, at a line taken from that very same book. If Twoflower had been wondering around the background of several scenes taking pictures or a wanted poster for con man Moist been seen on the wall then that’s an Easter egg/ gag I can get behind. As it is the writers expect you to be happy when they apparently, accidently steer to close to the book they’re supposed to be adapting. Like when Fox tried to get a giggle out of the audience by asking if Wolverine would appreciate blue and yellow spandex. The problem there is that we’re in the age of the nerd, and you’re adapting Discworld which means that not only won’t that fly but will very likely annoy.
If you haven’t read the books before, or simply aren’t a huge nerd about them, then the series has a decent idea at the centre but is, quite frankly, a mess. Richard Dormer is a good choice for Sam Vimes but you wouldn’t think it from watching this where he spends the show gurning in place of acting. Everyone else fails to make enough of an impression for me to care at this time. But maybe that will change by episode two.