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High among the many heretofore unanswered questions of our age: What would happen if Game of Thrones’ Khal Drogo was resurrected as a bloodthirsty fur trader in 18th-century North America? Netflix and Discovery Canada (the latter getting into scripted television for the first time) provide an answer with Frontier, a propulsive, gleefully gory six-episode adventure series about the half-Irish/half-Native American Declan Harp (Jason Momoa), formerly a hired hand for the corporately cutthroat Hudson Bay Company and now their sworn, very vengeful enemy.
Why this hulking barbarian has it out for HBC (apologies, Helena Bonham Carter) is pretty much revealed by the end of the two episodes sent out for review. Frontier doesn’t delay its payoffs; it prefers to move forward like the proverbial mofo. You might also be surprised that, despite Momoa’s executive producer credit (not to mention his soon-to-be stint as DC’s Aquaman), this isn’t a tailored star vehicle, but a generous ensemble piece. Our ostensible protagonist is offscreen for much of these first two installments, the better to sketch in the rogues gallery who will either help or hinder Harp achieve his retaliatory goals.
There’s young Irishman Michael Smyth (Hemlock Grove’s Landon Liboiron), a petty thief who works his way into Harp’s good graces; bullish, whip-smart bar owner Grace Emberly (Zoe Boyle, alluring, redheaded kin to Karen Allen in the Indiana Jones films), who knows everything that goes on in the coastal settlement near which Harp is hiding; and alcoholic priest James Coffin (Christian McKay, still milking his Orson Welles thang for all it’s worth) and hot-tempered British officer Captain Chesterfield (Evan Jonigkeit) masticate on the margins, providing each scene they’re in with jolts of farcical or enraged energy. Best of all is veteran British performer Alun Armstrong as Lord Benton, the psychotic Hudson Bay Company overseer with a penchant for sharp blades and bodies on which to use them.
Director Brad Peyton — helmer of such indisputable multiplex masterpieces as San Andreas and Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore — never lets the narrative momentum go slack in these first two installments. And creators Rob and Peter Blackie do a good job distilling some complex history (with its warring Irish, Scots, English and Natives, not to mention some pronounced class and gender discord) into straightforward entertainment, basically by treating the whole enterprise as Star Wars: 1700! Smyth is the Luke Skywalker to Harp’s Han Solo; Benton the Emperor to Chesterfield’s Darth Vader; Coffin is C-3PO; and Emberly is Leia Organa. We should be thankful the American Indian characters (Raoul Trujillo and Fargo’s Zahn McClarnon are among the Native performers involved) don’t come off like Ewoks or Gungans, but are instead as flesh-and-blood as the other participants. Which is to say, everyone in this enjoyable diversion is equally comic book and gush their vital fluids accordingly.
Cast: Jason Momoa, Landon Liboiron, Zoe Boyle, Christian McKay, Evan Jonigkeit, Shawn Doyle, Zahn McClarnon, Lyla-Porter
Follows, Diana Bentley, Greg Bryk, Breanne Hill, Paul Fauteux, William Belleau, Jessica Matten, Alun Armstrong
Creators: Rob Blackie, Peter Blackie
Executive producers: Edwina Follows, Perry Chafe, Allan Hawco, Michael Levine, Jason Momoa, Alex Patrick, Brad Peyton, Jeff Fierson, Rob Blackie, Peter Blackie
Premieres: Friday (Netflix)
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