“Shadow And Bone” Reveals Four New Cast Members Joining Season Two

MINOR SPOILERS FOR SHADOW AND BONE SEASON ONE AND SIX OF CROWS AHEAD!

The crown jewel in Netflix’s hoard of fantasy franchises is The Witcher, the only original series on the streaming platform growing and expanding at such an exponential rate that it is no longer categorized under the fantasy genre, but indeed in its own separate category (albeit still largely padded out by short behind-the-scenes features). But if any other fantasy series has the wealth of never-before-adapted source material and the increasing number of enthusiastic fans necessary to support a franchise, it has to be Shadow And Bone.

Shadow And Bone
Lewis Tan, Anna Leong Brophy, Patrick Gibson, and Jack Wolfe | bleedingcool.com

Not for the first time, the name “Wylan” made it to the top five trends on Twitter today as Shadow And Bone‘s official social media outlets broke the long-awaited news that Wylan Van Eck, a beloved character in Leigh Bardugo’s Six Of Crows novels, has finally been cast and will appear in Shadow And Bone‘s second season, currently filming in Hungary. That’s pretty extraordinary. What’s even more extraordinary is that a Six Of Crows spin-off series has not yet been officially announced, although rumors have begun to circulate in recent months that one is being developed.

Until that day comes, the Six Of Crows duology and Grisha trilogy, both authored by Leigh Bardugo and set in her fictional Grishaverse, yet vastly disparate in tone and style, will continue to be compressed into one sprawling Netflix series, which borrows the title Shadow And Bone from the first book in her Grisha trilogy. Season one adapted Shadow And Bone in its entirety, intertwined with original storylines for the Six Of Crows characters Kaz Brekker, Inej Ghafa, and Jesper Fahey.

Season two is expected to take the same approach to the second book in the Grisha trilogy, Siege And Storm, with the Crows’ storylines gradually inching closer to the events of their own duology. And thus, it should come as no surprise to fans of the trilogy that the characters of Nikolai Lantsov, Tolya Yul-Bataar, and Tamar Kir-Bataar have also been cast. These three characters are integral to Siege And Storm and to furthering the story of Alina Starkov’s war with the Darkling. It’s hard to imagine that Wylan will have anything to do with Alina, but his initiation into the Crows gang is the catalyst for the daring heist central to Six Of Crows.

So now that you know the basics, let’s break down these characters and casting announcements, shall we? First and foremost, because he’s the one who trended highest and whose casting seems to have universally satisfied most fans, we have Wylan Van Eck – or should I say, Wylan Hendriks. Just as season one ineffectively attempted to conceal the Darkling’s true identity behind the code-name of “General Kirigan”, season two appears to be hiding the truth about Wylan Van Eck’s illustrious parentage; a secret that comes out fairly early in Six Of Crows.

In the books, Wylan adopts the surname “Hendriks” – his mother’s maiden-name – while living on the streets of Ketterdam, after leaving home at a young age and discovering much to his surprise that his birth-name is no longer safe to use. Stalked relentlessly by people who want to kill him, Wylan puts his knowledge of chemistry to good use and becomes a demolitions expert, supplying explosives to Ketterdam’s criminals. Kaz Brekker, seeing through his little charade immediately, enlists him on the Ice Court heist as a bargaining-chip in negotiations with Wylan’s father, the businessman Jan Van Eck.

Jack Wolfe, best known for small roles in The Witcher and Father Brown, will portray Wylan Hendriks – and at once, his wide eyes and prim features make him a perfect match for the character, whom the other Crows underestimate at first due to his seemingly fragile physical build, privileged upbringing, and classical education. By an interesting twist of fate, Wolfe is also set to star in a musical adaptation of Mozart’s The Magic Flute, which aligns with Wylan’s own interest in music, the flute in particular.

Shadow And Bone
Jack Wolfe | redanianintelligence.com

Patrick Gibson will take on the challenging but charismatic role of Nikolai Lantsov, the youngest prince in Ravka’s ruling family who aligns himself with Alina Starkov and becomes her love-interest, as well as a chief enemy of the Darkling and of his own despicable parents. Some fans don’t believe that Gibson looks like Nikolai, by which they must mean that he doesn’t physically resemble a seven-letter word printed on a page, because otherwise he fits the descriptors neatly and brings a certain ethereal quality to the character that is very suitable.

More than that, he has plenty of experience. Gibson starred in Netflix’s ambitious sci-fi epic The OA, and has appeared in numerous key roles across films and television, including The White Princess, The Spanish Princess, Before We Die, The Darkest Minds, and Tolkien, the 2019 biopic of the great fantasy author.

After Ben Barnes, however, arguably the biggest name-talent to join Shadow And Bone is Lewis Tan, who will appear in season two as Tolya Yul-Bataar, a Shu Heartrender loyal to Nikolai who becomes one of Alina’s bodyguards and closest companions. Tan has appeared in Iron Fist, Deadpool 2, and Wu Assassins, and last year led the ensemble cast of the Mortal Kombat adaptation that raked in roughly $83 million worldwide and became a massive hit on HBO Max. He’s not an extremely versatile actor, but he’s already got Tolya’s fight-training, good looks, and the crucial smolder.

Between Tolya and his twin sister Tamar Kir-Bataar, I suspect Tamar will do most of the heavy lifting in dramatic scenes. Her character, another Heartrender, is Alina’s close confidante throughout Siege And Storm, and in Shadow And Bone their connection may be even deeper because Alina is explicitly Shu in the adaptation, like the twins. It’s implied in the books that the nation of Shu Han is vaguely inspired by late 19th Century China or Mongolia, and Jessie Mei Li (who plays Alina), Lewis Tan, and Tamar’s actress, podcaster Anna Leong Brophy, are all of Chinese descent.

Incidentally, Tamar and Wylan are both canonically queer characters in the books (and there’s some evidence to suggest that Tolya is aromantic and/or asexual). Seeing as Jesper has already been shown flirting with and seducing men in season one, I have faith that Shadow And Bone won’t leave any of their scenes on the cutting-room floor, as unfortunately happened to several queer characters in The Witcher. Taking Fedyor, Ivan, and Nina Zenik (who is canonically bisexual in the books) into account, Shadow And Bone might just challenge The Wheel Of Time for the honor of TV’s gayest fantasy series.

Shadow And Bone
Lewis Tan | idntimes.com

Speaking of Nina Zenik, both Danielle Galligan and Calahan Skogman (Nina and Matthias, respectively) have been upgraded to series regulars heading into season two. Daisy Head, who plays the conflicted Tailor Genya Safin, has enjoyed the same promotion. Behind the scenes, Shadow And Bone‘s showrunner Eric Heisserer will now be joined by Daegan Fryklind, who was a writer on season one.

With Shadow And Bone season two supposedly aiming for a release date later this year, hopefully it won’t be long before we see Wylan, Nikolai, Tolya and Tamar in action. In the meantime, feel free to share your own thoughts, theories, and opinions, in the comments below!

“The Witcher” Returns Stronger Than Ever After Two Years

MINOR SPOILERS FOR THE WITCHER SEASON 2 AHEAD!

With the universe of The Witcher expanding at the rate that is, and Netflix investing in live-action prequels, anime spinoffs, and even a kid’s show (I have…so many questions about how that’s gonna work), there was a lot of pressure on The Witcher‘s second season to validate that level of support from the streaming service. The first season was good, don’t get me wrong, but it takes more than “good” for Netflix to bank so heavily on any of their original franchises – especially one with a large budget and a star whose salary doubled between seasons.

The Witcher
Ciri and Geralt | variety.com

So it’s fortunate indeed that The Witcher season two gleefully one-ups its debut season at every opportunity and on every level. Showrunner Lauren Hissrich has consistently proven in her social media interactions with fans that she’s always willing to listen and engage with valid critiques of her work on season one, and in season two it appears that she and her team have taken great care to evolve in response to those critiques while staying true to her over-arching vision for the series. The process of achieving that delicate balance begins in the writers room.

That’s where it must have been decided to stick to just one timeline from now on, after audiences responded poorly to the gradual reveal in season one that the show had been jumping between three timelines without warning. To be fair, that reveal works better on a rewatch, when you can pick up all the clues that the writers cleverly planted in early episodes, and I hope season two will be equally as rewarding on successive rewatches; because on a first viewing, to someone who hasn’t read the books or played the games, I think it’s the politics that are going to be most challenging to follow in season two.

I encourage anyone new to The Witcher to find themselves a detailed map of The Continent online before settling in to watch season two, because whether you can keep up with which kingdoms are fighting over what, much less play along with all the political intrigue on your own, will largely depend on how fast you can figure out where the kingdom of Redania is in relation to Cintra and where everything is in relation to Nilfgaard. Most fantasy stories on this scale will have some character in-universe unfurl a map to help out the audience – The Witcher is not most fantasy stories, so you’re gonna have to bring your own.

If you can get past that hurdle, the political intrigue of The Witcher is well-executed, satisfyingly complex…and integral to this season and the forward direction of the series. If Yennefer (Anya Chalotra) was your favorite character in season one because you loved exploring the world of the Mages with their secretive individual agendas and allegiances, you’ll find much to enjoy in season two as the Mages clash with new characters like Dijkstra (Graham McTavish), a man with an almost Machiavellian cunning, and old characters with new goals, like the ostracized Nilfgaardian Mage Fringilla Vigo (Mimî M. Khayisa).

In other words, this season of The Witcher was tailor-made for me. Political intrigue is one of my favorite tropes in fantasy, and as much as I love seeing Geralt (Henry Cavill) hunt monsters, especially now that Ciri (Freya Allan) is in on the action with a sword of her own and some very cool magic abilities, I’m always gonna gravitate more towards the cloak-and-dagger stuff, the conspiracies behind closed doors, the plots and the political maneuvering enriched by the addition of a magical element in this case. But rest assured, monster lovers, The Witcher hasn’t forgotten you.

Following complaints that season one was suspiciously light on monsters for a show about a monster-hunter, season two brings a number of new beasts off the pages of Andrzej Sapkowski’s books and into live-action. By the end of the season, The Witcher is just about testing the limits of its expanded budget (without getting into spoilers, there are several basilisks in the finale, each a little less convincing than the last), but you can tell that the show has more money and resources to allocate towards CGI, because the fight-scenes are longer and better-lit, showing off the cool monster designs rather than hiding them in shadows.

There are monsters where there don’t even need to be monsters in season two, which is an improvement over almost no monsters at all. The Bruxa (a bloodsucking shapeshifter) and the Leshy (a malevolent tree) are by far my favorites; both enigmatic, both hauntingly beautiful, and both absolutely terrifying. If there’s a tiebreaker between the two, it’s the Leshy’s relative lack of screentime and personality that pushes the Bruxa into the lead. I’d say it’s impressive that the Leshy made any impact on me at all in just forty-five seconds, but that’s actually very telling of how much I love evil trees.

The Witcher
Leshy | radiotimes.com

The Witcher and its monsters are deeply rooted in Slavic (specifically Polish) folklore, and even monsters original to the Netflix series are designed with the same cultural influences in mind. Season two introduces a haggard demoness named Voleth Meir (Ania Marson, a Polish screen legend), nowhere to be found in Sapkowski’s books but immediately familiar to fans of Baba Yaga (me, again). At first she’s just a creepy witch living in a hut in the woods, but then the hut lifts itself up and…well, if you know the Baba Yaga myth, you know what’s underneath.

Voleth Meir is one of several characters in season two linked to events that took place long before The Witcher, which will presumably be explored further in the live-action prequel series, Blood Origin. A sneak-peek at Blood Origin is attached to The Witcher‘s season finale as a mid-credits scene, and with how much worldbuilding there is in regard to Elven bloodlines, the mysterious black monoliths scattered across the Continent, and the fabled Conjunction of the Spheres, I imagine that a lot of fans will want to check that out to see how closely the two series’ are intertwined (also because it stars Michelle Yeoh).

In much the same way that a map is important to understanding the political intrigue elements of The Witcher, I feel that Blood Origin may be essential viewing to figure out what actually happened in this season at all – and there’s a big difference between expecting viewers to look at a map and asking that they watch two series’ (one of which isn’t out yet) just to understand the one they actually came for in the first place. By contrast, Nightmare Of The Wolf is complimentary to The Witcher and fills in some gaps regarding our knowledge of Vesemir (Kim Bodnia), but you needn’t have watched it to understand his character’s actions.

Thankfully, even as its plot occasionally strays towards the past, The Witcher is anchored in the here-and-now by a trinity of exceptional performances from Cavill, Chalotra, and Allan. Throughout season one, Chalotra did most of the dramatic heavy lifting for the trio, it has to be said. And I will argue that even in season two, she’s still given the most compelling material to work with, but the burden of “carrying the show” is more evenly divided between the three when the season opens, Cavill’s Geralt and Allan’s Ciri having already met at the very end of season one.

It’s the first time in her flight across the Continent that Ciri has paused long enough to have a proper conversation with anybody, but Allan is able to quickly and deftly mold a three-dimensional heroine out of her character, who was little more than a plot-device in season one. As she gives voice to her trauma and inner tumult, we explore more facets of her personality beyond the poise and shy politeness hammered into her by her grandmother – including a ceaseless hatred for her family’s enemies that burns within her body, manifesting itself in violence that both terrifies and mesmerizes Ciri.

Disappointingly, the one element of Ciri’s character that didn’t quite make it to the screen in this season is her bisexuality. Several deleted scenes apparently exist of her crushing on the Mage Triss Merigold (Anna Shaffer), along with one that would have confirmed the Witcher Lambert (Paul Bullion) as a bisexual character. That these scenes were removed so methodically is obviously frustrating. As for the bard Jaskier (Joey Batey), his character is more overtly queer-coded than ever, but the only evidence that he harbors any unrequited romantic feelings for Geralt is one confusingly emotional break-up song about the Witcher.

The Witcher
Vesemir, Geralt, and Ciri | whats-on-netflix.com

Deprived of his muse, however, it appears that the bard has lost his touch for clever, catchy songwriting. The break-up song, titled “Burn”, disappoints immensely and is even ridiculed in-universe by some of Jaskier’s audience. It’s certainly not a worthy successor to “Toss A Coin To Your Witcher”, Jaskier’s stirring hymn to Geralt that became a smash hit in real-life and on the Continent, where a star-struck fan even boldly approaches Jaskier with his extremely meta criticisms of the bard’s other work, including one song with too many “different timelines”.

It would certainly have been ironic if The Witcher‘s second season had continued the analogy by falling as flat as Jaskier’s new songs. But happily, this is one series that just keeps getting better across the board, and I’m very excited to see whether season three can raise the bar still further.

Series Rating: 8.5/10

“Arcane” Season 1 Finishes Off With A Bang

SPOILERS FOR ARCANE: LEAGUE OF LEGENDS SEASON ONE AHEAD!

After keeping me on the edge of my seat for three weeks, Arcane: League Of Legends season one is finally complete; but the story is only just beginning, and Netflix, Riot Games, and French animation studio Fortiche have barely even scratched the surface of what League Of Legends‘ vast world of stories can offer. Yes, a second season is officially in production, but the end of season one has me in the mood to hop onboard one of Piltover’s famous airships and explore the rest of Runeterra. It all seems wondrous to me as a casual viewer who knows next to nothing about League Of Legends lore.

Arcane
Jinx | dotesports.com

And in its last batch of three episodes, I think Arcane masterfully capitalizes on that feeling shared by so many viewers new to the franchise by giving us a glimpse into the many League Of Legends stories yet to be told onscreen, any of which could be explored in successive seasons of Arcane or in spin-offs if the show is successful enough to warrant them. The extraordinary new character of Ambessa Medarda (voiced by Ellen Thomas) all but invites our heroes to join her on a journey far beyond Piltover to her own world of subterfuge and political intrigue, which sounds like a very good offer if you ask me.

But at the same time, what I really appreciate about Arcane is that it knows exactly where its center lies, and it always comes back there. If this final batch of episodes is perhaps lighter on epic action and spectacle than some might have hoped (although there’s still enough that it’s not underwhelming in that regard, either), that’s only because the finale is focused on delivering satisfying character moments for the main cast, some of which resolve season-long arcs and some of which only close one chapter of a character’s story to prepare them for the next.

In the end, Arcane comes down to one family and two sisters: the microcosm through which we witness the long-lasting effects of Piltover’s brutality against the undercity of Zaun. Orphaned in one war between the two cities, ripped apart by another, and reunited in a third, Violet (voiced by Hailee Steinfeld) and Jinx (voiced by Ella Purnell) have spent every day of their lives fighting to carve out some kind of foothold in a world that would happily purge them from existence if it cared about them at all. Jinx forces the world to notice her through the chaos and colorful graffiti she leaves in her wake, and the world responds by hunting her until she has nowhere left to turn.

In a tragic twist of fate, Jinx’s terror leads her to believe that everyone close to her will betray her – “everyone” in this case being her sister Violet and her father figure Silco (voiced by Jason Spisak). There’s no question that Silco was an abominable man, but I think he genuinely loved Jinx and he wasn’t lying when he said he would never have let her go. He would have given up everything to do what he thought would keep her safe, and in the end – fittingly – he lost his own life to Jinx while trying to kill the one person he saw as a threat to her; Violet.

The whole sequence stung, but in the best way, because it’s never a clear-cut issue of who’s right and who’s wrong. Violet did abandon Jinx as a child, when she needed her the most…but Silco also lied when he told Jinx that Violet never tried to come back for her afterwards. They both want to protect Jinx, but Violet never explains how she plans to do that with the limited resources at her disposal. Sure, she’s got a powerful ally in Caitlyn (voiced by Katie Leung), but ironically Jinx might have blown that alliance to smithereens along with the council-chamber she blew up in the finale, which very likely killed Caitlyn’s mother.

Arcane
Violet | deadline.com

That’s another thing I love about Arcane. The heroes are never automatically right by virtue of being the heroes, and likewise with the villains. Violet and Jinx should have been each other’s solid ground, and perhaps they still could be, but it’s going to take a lot of work and self-improvement from both characters. Jinx has legitimate reasons to distrust Violet, and the show acknowledges that without trying to make excuses for Violet’s actions. Arcane makes you fall in love with a character for their virtues and their flaws, because nobody in this world is comprised wholly of one or the other.

Topside, that holds true of characters like Jayce (voiced by Kevin Alejandro), who finally confronts the reality that his idealism doesn’t necessarily make him a better politician than anyone else on the city council, and that you can’t always win battles by assuming the moral high-ground. Viktor (voiced by Harry Lloyd), his lab partner, uses these last three episodes to reach a similar conclusion about life in general, but whether because of his harsher upbringing or awareness of his own mortality, he doesn’t have the same qualms as Jayce – he’ll do whatever it takes to survive, even if that means replacing his weakening body with Hextech.

Then there’s Mel Medarda (voiced by Toks Olagundoye), the enigmatic councilwoman who’s stayed on the sidelines throughout season one – until the finale, when at long last her plan starts to come into focus. Turns out, this whole time that’s she been pulling the strings behind Jayce’s greatest accomplishments she’s also been engaged in a Game Of Thrones-style grudge match with her mother, who banished her to Piltover because she believed Mel was weak and couldn’t handle the responsibilities of ruling their own realm. So Mel took over Piltover.

Mel’s mother Ambessa erupts onto the screen, effortlessly showing off through her flippant mannerisms, confident gait, and disarming personality why Mel was right to fear and revere her as a child, and why she makes such an fearsome opponent now. There’s simply nothing that rattles her, and that characterization is significant – because when Ambessa reveals to Mel that their family is in real danger from an enemy who’s already killed Mel’s brother, we realize instantly the enormity of that threat if it’s something that scares even Ambessa. And don’t forget, all of this development is packed into just three episodes. It shouldn’t work, yet it does.

Hopefully Ambessa and Mel’s storyline becomes a major subplot in season two, but I’m very interested to see how it connects back to Violet and Jinx. Mel was in the council-chamber that Jinx blew up in the finale…and while I can’t imagine that Arcane would kill her off so early, even an injury might give Ambessa a reason to seek vengeance on Jinx or for Mel to do so herself. Those are the kinds of unexpected connections that these final three episodes sold especially well, as the interactions, particularly between characters from either side of the social divide, felt organic and intriguing.

On that note, I have to talk about Violet and Caitlyn. They’ve been partners in the League Of Legends game for a long time, but Arcane (at least to my knowledge) offers the first canonical hint that they’re more than just friends. I don’t want to call it confirmation of a queer romance just yet because they talk about their relationship in terms that are a little vague for my taste, and they don’t kiss (even though they came pretty darn close last week) but Jinx refers to Caitlyn as Violet’s girlfriend and Violet instantly knows who she’s talking about, so…make of that what you will.

Arcane
Mel Medarda | dualshockers.com

For a series I had virtually no interest in until its release day, Arcane: League Of Legends has surpassed my wildest expectations and quite possibly taken the top spot on my list of favorite TV shows from this year. As one of the few shows telling this kind of complex and mature story through uniquely beautiful and dynamic animation (if there’s any justice in this world, Fortiche’s talented animators should be in high demand from now on), Arcane easily stands out from the competition and raises the bar for the whole medium. Season two can’t come soon enough.

Series Rating: 9.5/10

“Cowboy Bebop” Is Gonna Carry The Weight Of Its Wrong Choices

Night before last, I was honored to attend a virtual screening for the first two episodes of Netflix’s Cowboy Bebop, a live-action reimagining of the beloved 1998 anime that debuted its full first season yesterday. The two episodes I saw were pretty good – a little slow, perhaps, and guilty of retreading ground the anime already covered, but good enough to leave me wanting more when the credits rolled. Sadly, it turns out that Cowboy Bebop is one of those shows that gets progressively worse as it plods along through a ten-episode season that feels like an eternity.

Cowboy Bebop
Spike Spiegel | vulture.com

Now, we all love a show that’s so bad it’s good in a roundabout way, and I even think Netflix’s Cowboy Bebop has its fair share of unironically compelling elements, including a couple of scenes toward the end that enrich the world of the anime so significantly that, if (and that’s a big if), if expanded upon in a second season, we could theoretically just forget about all the bad stuff and move merrily along. But this first season’s greatest crime is that it makes Bebop boring – and that’s really hard to do, so this took concentrated effort.

Ironically, it’s Cowboy Bebop‘s inability to free itself from the imagined constraints of a straight-up remake that keeps this series about the dangers of never moving on from the past entangled in a web of its own creation. The glimpses of originality that shine through are much appreciated (though often built on other generic tropes), but every time it looks like the show might finally do something bold and unique it inflicts upon us another halfhearted re-enactment of storylines that were intended to be stand-alone in the anime and are here awkwardly fused with the series’ mostly new overarching narrative to create some lopsided chimera of a first season.

If it was ever implied that there was some reason behind the inclusion of these storylines, apart from the desire to lure in fans of the anime with scenes and characters they already know, that would be one thing, but none ever emerges; and in any case such clarity of purpose would be jarring in a series that ricochets tonally between snarky profanity-laced comedy (which is where, tellingly, it seems most comfortable) and a transparent facsimile of the anime’s melancholy atmosphere.

Uneven writing is largely to blame, but the whole series is gonna carry that weight. And if that pun was obvious, it’s still more subtle than Cowboy Bebop‘s bull-in-a-china-shop approach to adapting a story famous for its multiple delicate layers of meaning. Where the anime slowly peeled back those layers to reveal more depth than one might at first expect from a sci-fi western, Netflix’s Cowboy Bebop has nothing to uncover and nothing to say that the anime didn’t already communicate more efficiently and poetically. It’s shallow and thematically muddled.

Cowboy Bebop‘s best attempts to disguise this involve repeatedly hitting you over the head with dialogue that spells out the series’ message in capital letters (incorrectly, but that’s beside the point), but such clumsy writing only draws more attentions to the areas in which Netflix’s Cowboy Bebop not only fails to honor the visionary anime, but very purposefully throws out the source material. I’m hardly a purist, but in this case it’s clear that Cowboy Bebop‘s writers aren’t motivated by some spark of their own genius but by the desire to build another franchise for Netflix.

Specifically, I’d point to what I feel is the most significant change, and that’s the reimagined team dynamic between our three main characters; former hit-man Spike Spiegel (John Cho); ex-cop Jet Black (Mustafa Shakir); and amnesiac bounty hunter Faye Valentine (Daniella Pineda). Both the anime and live-action series revolve around the traumatic events in their backstories that defined them and still affect them to this day, but the anime allowed this conflict to impede on their ability to form new relationships or start over with their lives. You felt all of their pain because it was evident in how they remained closed-off from each other, how they kept their secrets sealed behind closed doors.

Netflix’s Cowboy Bebop can’t ever go to those lengths, because that would require editing out at least fifteen minutes of friendly banter from each episode. Leave aside the fact that the characters’ backstories are already rendered weightless by being unloaded early in the season before we form an emotional attachment to any of them, the live-action versions of Spike, Jet, and Faye are simply too emotionally available, too familiar with each other, too well-adjusted, for the core conflict to work. They bicker, but they’re already basically a family unit by the end of the season when they face the first real challenge to that dynamic.

Cowboy Bebop
Jet Black | indiewire.com

Of the three main characters, I do want to point out that Mustafa Shakir is not only an excellent Jet Black, but a vast improvement on the anime’s version of the same character. Jet was my least-favorite of the main trio, partially because his backstory was simply less interesting to me and partially because his character often stayed behind on the Bebop while Spike and Faye would go after a bounty together or individually. Shakir’s Jet is always in on the action, effortlessly taking the lead. He’s also a father in this retelling, which leads to some plot-beats that would have been predictable if not for Shakir’s performance.

I wish I could say the same of Cho or Pineda. Cho is a very good actor, but his Spike is written to be so talkative and funny that it’s only in those rare moments where he’s allowed to speak volumes through silence that he really feels like the character – for instance, when he gets off an elevator wearing headphones and strolls casually into the middle of a casino-heist, or when he’s hanging upside-down from a billboard and lights a cigarette while he waits to be pulled to safety. These are both new scenes, but they express the character’s motto of “Whatever happens, happens” perfectly.

Pineda, sadly, is dealt the worst hand, as her character is only Faye Valentine insofar as that’s her name and she shares roughly the same backstory. The nostalgia for a life she doesn’t remember that kept Faye frantically bouncing from place to place in search of belonging, the vividly realized claustrophobia of being in your own body and still not recognizing whose it is, and the vulnerability that comes with that, leaving Faye susceptible to manipulation – almost none of that is brought over into live-action. Pineda’s Faye is only a step above a comedic-relief character.

Even with an entire episode centered on a gender-bent version of the con-artist Whitney Matsumoto (Christine Dunford), who here poses as Faye’s doting mother, the series squanders its opportunity to explore Faye’s internal conflict. Cowboy Bebop could have played up the psychological horror of waking up with no grip on reality or sense of stability, and then being fed lies by a total stranger who claims to be the only person who remembers you…but instead Faye and the others get roped into a whole bunch of humorous hijinks involving Matsumoto’s husband that culminates in an utterly random plot twist for shock value.

And while we’re on the subject of characters undercut by cheap humor, I can’t not talk about Vicious (Alex Hassell). I’ll be honest, I never liked him in the anime to begin with; he was a despicable, one-dimensional villain. But I couldn’t help but feel embarrassed on his behalf while watching the live-action Cowboy Bebop drag Vicious’ name and reputation through the mud, reducing the menacing warlord to a sniveling parody of Lucius Malfoy, with a stringy platinum-blonde wig so atrocious that if you told me it was found discarded on the set of Jupiter’s Legacy, I’d believe you.

Vicious is constantly surrounded by a whole host of other actors hamming it up as various crime-lords of the Syndicate, which might have been enjoyable in a different show; in Cowboy Bebop, it’s just weird and unnecessary. John Noble is probably the best of the bunch, playing another authoritarian father figure in the same vein as his iconic Denethor, only a little more overtly villainous. Vicious is also accompanied by Julia (Elena Satine), who in the anime remained enigmatic and invisible until the end of the series. Here, she’s a major character, which is a nice change. The final episode sets up a very interesting future for her, which as I said could turn the whole show around in season two.

Apart from some interesting new characters, there’s also the occasional character so exquisitely redesigned – and often modernized – that at best you wish they looked like that in the anime, as I felt was particularly the case with Gren (Mason Alexander Park). Sadly, they’re all stuck in this inferior series.

Cowboy Bebop
Vicious | netflixlife.com

Even in its best episodes, Netflix’s Cowboy Bebop falls far short of the anime on which it’s based. There’s good stuff scattered here and there, and with a lot of work this show could be something interesting down the line – but I don’t know if it will ever feel like a proper adaptation of Bebop. And as disappointing as that is, take comfort in the fact that the original anime is also streaming on Netflix, so you can skip this entirely and go straight to the source. You won’t be missing much.

Series Rating: 5/10