Friday, December 05, 2014

The Librarians: The Television Film Franchise Goes Weekly

Flynn Carsen is a librarian Kramer would approve of. He does not spend a lot of time putting newspapers on big wooden sticks for cheapskates trying to save a quarter and probably doesn’t even know the Dewey Decimal System. Instead, he spends his time tracking down magical items to keep them out of the hands of potential evil-doers. The protagonist of TNT’s hit television movie franchise The Librarian is now a recurring character in their new regular series, The Librarians, note the plural form, which debuts with back-to-back episodes (The Librarians and the Crown of King Arthur and The Librarians and the Sword and the Stone) this Sunday (promo here).

Carsen has two last names and twenty-two college degrees. The perennial student was chosen by “the Library,” the mystical apostolic successor to the great Library in Alexandria, now hidden beneath the Metropolitan Public Library in New York. Having held his own in a series of adventures, Carsen is rather put out when the Library recruits Col. Eve Baird, a no-nonsense counter-terrorism operative to be his Protector. However, he will reluctantly accept her help when the shadowy Serpent Brotherhood starts assassinating all the weird genius rivals he beat out for his current globe-trotting gig. In fact, the only former candidates still surviving are the three oddballs who never made it in for their interviews.

Jacob Stone is an unassuming laborer in the Oklahoma oil fields, who writes scholarly articles on medieval art and history under an assumed name. Ezekiel Jones is a thrill-seeker, who likes to steal the things Stone writes about. Cassandra Cillian has savant-like powers of memory and superhuman computation, but it might be linked to the tumor that will eventually kill her. Together with Carsen and Baird, they will track down several Arthurian relics the Brotherhood needs to control the magic they intend to let loose upon the world.

The Librarian one-offs might have been popular, but they must have skewed toward a decidedly younger demographic. While the premiere episodes, directed in a straight forward manner by Independence Day producer Dean Devlin, never descend into outright slapstick, the dominant acting style practiced is decidedly broad. This is especially so for Noah Wyle’s Carsen and hammy John Larroquette, joining the Librarian world as Jenkins, the curmudgeonly manager of the Library’s branch office (evidently in Portland of all places), who is clearly being set up to serve as the Giles-Watcher to the three new recruits. However, Rebecca Romijn demonstrates decent action chops and an appealingly down-to-business screen presence as Baird.

The villains are not bad either. Matt Frewer returns to chew a bit of scenery as the Brotherhood’s immortal overlord, Dulaque and Lesley-Ann Brandt’s unfortunately named Lamia is a promising femme fatale. It is hard to judge from just two episodes, but John Kim and Christian Kane at least seem comfortable in the parts of Jones and Stone. In contrast, Lindy Booth may need some time to figure out how to breathe life into Cillian, a passive naïf character written somewhere between a door mouse and door mat.

Guys of my generation probably would have loved this show when we were twelve years old. There is magic and adventure, but it feels old fashioned in a 1980s network television kind of way. To an extent, it is like the Friday the 13th series, with fantasy trappings instead of the supernatural horror (it also lacks the evil antiquing show’s distinctive vibe). It is harmless and might serve as a productive stepping stone for Romijn, but it will underwhelm most adult genre audiences. For franchise fans, the first two episodes of The Librarians debut on TNT this Sunday (12/7).