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The Dresden Files – TV Series Review

Twelve episodes of Dresden goodness, of magic and Murphy. How could you pass this up? How could you not want to watch?

Well… (and this ignoring the recent Facebook comments currently doing the rounds)… you might have heard that it is ‘not very good,’ but you haven’t watched it – I did it for you (no need to thank me).

I’ll say now, I enjoyed it (note: caveats to follow). Years ago I bought the DVD which contained all those gorgeous episodes and never ever watched it. This wasn’t some attempt to keep it in mint condition, in the shrink wrap, and sell it for a fortune in later years, retire to a tropical island and live a life of luxury solely down to some amazing foresight. No, it was because I never got round to it – story of my life.

Paul Blackthorne as Dresden

So, when it came on Amazon Prime and we entered lockdown, and I spent a week in bed not feeling too well, it was the perfect time to finally watch it! Which is why I watched series one of Homestead Rescue on my phone (I was isolated in a room without a firestick or internet TV -it was like the dark ages) and needed something that wouldn’t tax my utter lack of concentration. Anyway, once I recovered and remembered, I set to watching and finished just this evening.

Like many shows it gets better as it progresses, as the actors and writers find their feet. Episode 11 and 12 are quite good – if it had continued from here, in this vein, then there was the promise of a good TV show. It is almost Castle, but with magic.

Valerie Cruz – Murphy

Actually, let’s start there. The two leads who play Harry and Murphy do a good job. Admittedly, the relationship is clunky at the start as Blackthorne learns to play Dresden, to create the gruff exterior, the dark heart that always seeks the light. Valerie Cruz, as Murphy, perhaps suspends her disbelief a little too easily, taking too much in her stride, and yet protesting and searching for answers – without actually asking, but there is a tough, no nonsense quality which carries over from the books.

In a forum post Jim Butcher stated, “The show is not the books. It is not meant to follow the same story. It is meant as an alternate world, where the overall background and story-world is similar, but not all the same things happen. The show is not attempting to recreate the books on a chapter-by-chapter or even story-by-story basis”. He continued by saying viewers should not expect a duplicate of the books, and those expecting it would be disappointed.(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Dresden_Files_(TV_series)#Departure_from_novels)

And on that subject, the books. This TV show is not the books. Get that out of your head right now. If you watch this expecting it to be a recreation of those stories – don’t, it isn’t, and you’ll ruin the experience. It is set in Chicago, he is a wizard, she is a cop, there are vampires, but there’s a lot that isn’t there. No Michael, no sword, no staff (a hockey stick instead), no big dog, no Fae, but there is a Butters! Just put the books out of your mind and approach it as an unknown show, or one you can accept is “based upon” the books, but isn’t. Believe me, you’ll have a better time.

Episode 1 to 7 builds the mythos around Harry, the death of his father and uncle. They also involve Bob to a fair degree and there is a skull. Bob, played by Terrence Mann who delivers lines in a voice and manner somewhat (though not totally) similar to early Picard, is a full figure of a man dressed impeccably and plays something of a father figure to Harry – it is actually one of the better relationships as the show begins. Here some purists will baulk and retreat – and I understand why, but really Bob is a full character here with his own motivations, desires, and charisma.

Terrance Mann – Bob

During this phase of the series, I was crying out for Harry to do more magic, to show his power. There are stirrings of this as the series progresses and by the 7th episode Harry is using his bracelet to defend himself, his staff (hockey stick) to blast baddies. It gets to be more of the Harry you want to see, and enjoy. It does get a bit a monster of the week – but there is an attempt at an arc later on, and it would be good to see this idea developed more and especially as the series and seasons progressed!

Episode 8 – Don’t watch it. Scrub it out. Seriously.

Why? Because it is the only one really based firmly on a book – Storm Front. It should be the highlight, but it is by far the worse. Suddenly, Murphy, who is for all the previous episodes, unaware but suspicious of magic, not quite understanding or knowing fully what is going on, now knows EVERYTHING! She knows about Harry’s magic, about Bob, about the High Council and all the rest. It is horrible. All the careful build up and character dynamics are chucked out of the window, stamped on, squashed and then covered in a steaming pile of freshly lain horse-dung. Do not watch it.

A little google-fu reveals this was the original pilot which has been edited and mucked about with to create a truly awful one hour of telly. It just jars the whole experience, which I am not saying has been a roller coaster of fun and excitement, but really does not fit with, in any shape, form, or dimension, the rest of the series. Do not watch it (or save it till last… actually, don’t even do that).

Episode 9 to 12, for that is all which were made, is where it really comes to life and here you see the promise of the series, the writing, the actors and all the build up which has gone before. Episode 9 demonstrates Harry’s good heart, his patience, and his powers. 10 examines his relationship and fondness (if not outright familial love) for Bob. 11 is a tense episode where, trapped within Harry’s office, members of the High Council must face threats which seek to destroy them.

With Conrad Coates as Warden Morgan

Then there is Episode 12, the final one, though clearly not planned or written to be. This episode is great. It tackles a few cop and father cliches, but they are done well – Murphy, Harry, and Murphy’s father relationship is done well and there are some moments of real development. By the end of this episode, I wanted the series to continue. I’ll confess to being slightly upset that it wasn’t.

In summary:

  • Episodes 1 to 7 are, at best, OK but improving.
  • Episode 8 – Yeaaarghhh!!! My eyes! My ears!!! I can’t look! Nooooo!
  • Episodes 9 to 12 are what this show could really have been growing into – there is promise and real development of relationships, real uses of magic, and an opening up of the wider world in which Harry exists.

However, it isn’t the books. Go in knowing that and you’ll enjoy it (apart from Ep8 – shudders).

Better yet, if you have Amazon Prime you’ve nothing to lose.

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