“The Terror” (AMC)
Created by David Kajganich
I really need to stop basing my viewing decisions on titles. I didn’t jump on the “Marvelous Mrs. Maizel” bandwagon until well after it premiered due to my thinking it was a musical based solely on it’s name and the promo picture. Likewise, I almost missed out on the terrific AMC mini-series, “The Terror,” simply because I thought it was a horror-based show. If not for the sky-high platitudes proclaimed on facebook by a certain drummer friend for the show (thank you, Zack)…I would have never bothered. But he was spot on.
“The Terror” from AMC, is a semi-historically based story of creeping madness on a mid-1800’s ice-packed expedition whose purpose is to discover the Northwest Passage. Firstly, the “terror” in “The Terror” is the name of one of the ships…not a reference to some horror-based entity…although there are horrors in the environment aplenty; spiritual, natural and scientific. And David Kajganich’s creation (exec produced by Ridley Scott), is the rarest of rare programs that is every bit as good in the bingeing as it is in the week-to-week. Usually when watching a show produced for weekly consumption, you notice the places where the creators have repeated themselves. The best example of this can be seen in the running argument between Walter and Skyler White in “Breaking Bad”. You’ll only notice its repetitive nature if you binge it – the hope being you’ll forget you saw the exact same scene two weeks ago. But here it FEELS like one continuous story (streaming) story. Considering almost the entirety of the ten episodes takes place on an ice pack, this is one taut story that leaves you breathless throughout.
And the most notable reason falls on the performances of its BRILLIANT cast. If it ONLY featured Jared Harris, it would still be worth watching. It took a VERY long time for him to get his due, playing small character roles in British and UK TV until his breakout performance in “Mad Men”. But, man, he is making the most of it. This show allows him to utilize all his tools…doubt, fear, leadership, delusion…it’s masterful. I hope to hell the SAG Nominating Committee has the opportunity to consider his work for a SAG Award. IT is HIGHLY worthy. As is the ensemble. There is not one misstep in the large group. But special mention must go to its four other male leads:
- Adam Nagaitas, whose work, like Harris’ before him, has mainly consisted of small character roles, but here, as one of the main antagonists, keeps a sense of mystery, danger and creepiness throughout, even as he maintains his status as the sensible one.
- Paul Ready is simply brilliant. A man of science, but more importantly, a humble man of grace and empathy, he is impossible to turn away from. PLEASE give him bigger roles to play. I’d pay to go see him.
- And the always incredible Ian Hart. You’ll know him as Prof. Quirrell from the initial Harry Potter offering, but his abilities are really shown off in his exceptional TV work, including “The Last Kingdom”, “The Bridge”, and, of course, “Boardwalk Empire.”
- Finally, there’s Tobias Menzies – the star, and bane, of one my two guilty pleasures, “Outlander” (the other being “Marvels Agents of SHIELD” – don’t judge). Though I feel “Outlander” has slightly diminished his status in my mind, he has otherwise been a fine performer in his MANY previous credits (most notably “Folye’s War”). And here he is superb. His transformation brought on by their plight is one of the more subtle but effective aspects of the show.
- And while there are very few women in the script & story by nature…a boat of men isolated in the Arctic Circle…there is one major performance given by a woman in the series. I won’t describe it because that would be giving too much away, but Nive Nielson deserves mention.
But, I could go on and on. This is Brit television acting at its very best.
The production aspects of the show are mostly hit and occasional miss…which comes down to, I assume, budget constraints. Only “Game of Thrones” has the budget to build a wall of ice in a manner that quite adequately suspends our disbelief. This is an AMC joint, not HBO, so, not so much. As a result, the “massive” walls of ice seem more Gymboree than Arctic hell. However, the counter to that are the ships themselves and the on-location photography. Too many to name, the show is better for the work of a phalanx of cinematographers. And the production design and art direction (Jonathan McKinstry and Matthew Hyel-Davies, respectively) These feel as real, if not more so, than those of the greatest Ships-On-the-High-Seas show of all time, “Black Sails”. But the failings of the set are all the more reason to laud the performances. You barely notice these issues because THEY believe in the struggle. And while SOME of the gore is a bit over the top, it’s a VERY minor (and, granted, picky) detail and in no way should dissuade you from watching.
Finally, I can’t say enough for the restrained, beautiful, haunting and sparse score of Marcus Fjellström in his FIRST major composing gig. Perfect.
“The Terror” should be in the top two or three show in your current queue. This is great television that has only grown in my estimation since I screened it last week.
Written on 6/15/2018