While the Golden Age of Television is certainly winding down, it has unmistakably left a major mark on the current state of television. With scripted dramas about antiheros being a defining trademark of the age, it seems like everyone is trying to get their own slate of scripted programs going (the massive commercial success of shows like The Walking Dead also has to do with this new trend too). The most recent channel to join this trend is none other than the Discovery Channel. Discovery has done incredibly well in the ratings with its non-scripted fare, but apparently the channel decided it was time to join in and released Klondike this week. Klondike is a solid first entry into scripted fare for Discovery. Had the miniseries stuck to its man vs. nature conflict of the first part, Klondike would have been one of the best miniseries of this TV season. Instead it settles for a clichéd set of man vs. man dilemmas.
Klondike is about the Klondike Gold Rush in the late 19th century. It follows Bill Haskell (Game of Thrones’ Richard Madden), a young adventurer, who gets much more than he bargained for when he decides to try his hand at mining for gold. Along the way he comes across many of the citizens of the growing boomtown of Dawson City. The miniseries is directed by Simon Cellan Jones (a TV director most known for his work for HBO) and is written by Paul Scheuring (Prison Break creator), Josh Goldin and Rachel Abramowitz.
Part one of this miniseries is just flat out great. It tells a man vs. nature story that requires Simon Cellan Jones to take complete control of the work. He does and we end up with a visually stunning miniseries that feels like a film rather than a TV program. Unfortunately, the later two parts can’t match the first one as we are introduced to a plethora of characters in Dawson City. While Bill Haskell certainly isn’t that interesting of a main character, the trials that he has to go up against are. On the other hand the trials that the citizens of Dawson City go up against are things we have seen numerous times and in better fashion. It also doesn’t help that Simon Cellan Jones’ direction takes a back seat for large portions of the later two episodes to the subpar script.
The cast that is assembled for the miniseries is also a mixed bag. Richard Madden is helped a lot by getting the most interesting storyline, because it is left unclear whether he has the acting ability to truly carry a project. Meanwhile, solid actors like Sam Shepard and Tim Roth are completely wasted whether it is through miscasting (in the case of the former) or terrible writing (in the case of the latter). Yet there are some good performances in the film. Marton Csokas is the unsung hero of the miniseries as the stoic leader of the law enforcement in town, and Abbie Cornish is compelling as the female lead of the miniseries.
Klondike falters in its later installments, but it is still a visually stunning miniseries.