'Sinbad' and 'Primeval: New World': TV Review
9 p.m. Saturday, June 8 (Syfy)
Syfy's new Saturday summer fare is a positive change from Dinocrocs and Sharktopuses, even though it has a built-in expiration date.
Viewers skittish about committing to new shows in case of cancelation now have an unusual choice to make: is it worth it to take a chance on one season of a series that is absolutely not coming back? Or is there an appeal in knowing a show has a limited run?
Syfy, who seem to have realized BBC America and PBS were on to something when it comes to rerunning U.K. programming, picked up Sinbad and Primeval: New World for summer runs. Both have aired in the U.K. and Canada, both almost a year ago, and both were since canceled after their first seasons. For Syfy, they may not be much more now than something new to burn off on Saturdays, but will viewers show up at all knowing the end is unquestionably nigh?
Sinbad, which serves as the lead-in, follows the Middle Eastern folklore hero at the start of his journey on the high seas around the 9th century. The series initially shares a tonal similarity with Starz's Da Vinci's Demons, in which the hero (played here by newcomer Elliot Knight) is a handsome rogue with a penchant for trouble and a certain brilliance for getting out of it. Things take a dark turn though for Sinbad halfway through the pilot, when a family tragedy leads him to be cast out of his home and cursed to live on the sea until he can find atonement. Complicating matters is Lord Akbari (Lost's Naveen Andrews) who, not content with an eye-for-an-eye after Sinbad is responsible for the death of his son, vows to hunt him down.
The series is filmed in Malta and offers up plenty of eye candy both in its scenery and its cast, which features Elliot Cowan, Dimitri Leonidas and Estella Daniels as part of Sinbad's rag-tag group of misfits (were you expecting something else?) aboard his first ship. Magic and monsters make early appearances, as they do in the original tales, and its fast-paced editing and snappy dialogue keep things moving quickly. The series is broad family entertainment and fairly boilerplate, but its biggest success may be the fact that the cast is entirely (when in Sinbad's hometown of Basra) and mostly (on the ship) non-white actors, giving a necessary authenticity to the location and time period. It's also just generally refreshing (and overdue).
Diversity is not Primeval: New World's strongest suit (or a suit it apparently even owns). The show is a spinoff of the British series of the same concept, except this time, Canadians from the past and future travel through time via wormholes (called "anomalies" on the show), hunting down prehistoric and futuristic animals that can't seem to stay in their own time period.
Primeval: New World is staunchly a genre series, complete with clunky dialogue and half-baked ideas of time travel. In fact, the show manages to combine practically all genre tropes into one: there's paranormal activity, time travel, hard boiled cops, crime scene investigations, inept government agencies, unlikely heroes, vengeance, atonement, everything. But at the end of its first hour, which is full of dinosaurs, it does introduce some futuristic elements to plots otherwise more or less covered by Jurassic Park, giving it a little more depth and interest.
It's not at all essential to have seen the original U.K. series to follow the Canadian version, even though there are apparently a lot of callbacks. The only real problem is keeping track of all of the male leads (tall and handsome with shaggy brown hair and soulful eyes is apparently a look Canadians are trademarking).
Though Sinbad and Primeval: New World have been promoted together and will air back to back, their commonalities end there. Primeval: New World's occasional gore and CSI-like construction don't quite gel with Sinbad's magic and potentially younger audience, and those who are drawn to Sinbad's historical setting may feel jarred by the other series' futuristic bent.
Still, while neither show is spectacular, both offer something that could be casually worthwhile to viewers, even for a single season. While Sinbad and Primeval: New World's producers, Impossible Pictures, did envision longer runs, Sky 1 (who originally aired Sinbad) said that after 12 episodes, the story "had run its course." There's something refreshing about admitting that. Ultimately, both series are the TV equivalent of summer beach reading: popcorn fun while they last, but don't expect a lasting impression.