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Welcome to ancient Greece … or at least its low-rent digital facsimile.
The new Syfy channel adventure series Olympus looks like 300 as shot for $300, a green-screen-heavy eyesore that still manages to charm for being so devotedly shoddy. It takes talent to make such a lowercase-“e” epic, which begins with our pretty-boy hero — named Hero (Tom York), natch — waking up in the underground cavern of a towering cyclops with a severed-foot fetish. After the well-placed throw of a bladed boomerang, Hero escapes and finds, in a nearby grotto, three imprisoned women, one of whom is an Oracle (Sonya Cassidy) he’s been searching for.
This sassy prophetess has run away from her temple, and Hero aims to bring her back, though he has some ulterior motives — chief among them is to use her divine powers to figure out who fathered him. In the first episode (the only installment sent out for review), the duo journey through the CGI woods, bickering all the way, and also fending off a pair of snarling thieves who look like Kiss-tribute-band fanatics.
Meanwhile, Medea (Sonita Henry) — “yes, THAT Medea,” states the character’s bio on the series’ official website — is busy in the big, bad digi-city doing some divining of her own. While her husband, King Aegeus (Graham Shiels), is off doing manly battle, she’s opening up the veins of their weakling son, Lykos (Wayne Burns), as a way of deducing the location of the Lexicon, a mystery-shrouded thingamawhatsit that purportedly will grant its user entry into the realm of the gods — that mystical place otherwise known as … OLYMPUS!
Nonsense and poppycock, you may say. And, well, you’d be right. Yet there’s something endearing about the way pilot-episode writer-director (and series creator) Nick Willing embraces the lo-fi nature of the entire enterprise. Not once does he try to convince viewers that any of the characters inhabit a tangible space. This is more of a cut-rate dreamworld in which the flat, digital backdrops act as static counterpoint to the actors’ Dynasty-level emoting. Olympus is high-camp soap opera performed in a virtual void — which doesn’t make it good, exactly, but at least results in some wonderfully, terribly compelling amateur theater.
Henry is the Joan Collins of this crew, scheming and murdering her way across the computerized scenery with an elan nicely complemented by York’s fresh-faced naivete as Hero. Their unabashed sincerity in their respective roles is irresistible, as when she cattily cuts down an enemy with sights on the throne or he tearfully reacts to the revelation of his semicelestial parentage. Neither performer seems to realize this is the kind of grade-Z rubbish that, in the words of Mel Brooks, rises below vulgarity. Their wide-eyed bafflement-cum-commitment (very hard to fake) is its own kind of pleasure.
Likewise enjoyable are the creature effects overseen by makeup maestro Toby Lindala. Lindala and his crew were responsible for many of the most memorable prosthetic creations on The X-Files, and there’s a nicely handmade quality to Olympus‘ various beasts, especially the cyclops, whose eye emerges from its mouth, Alien-style. More monsters are promised in the coming weeks, along with an appearance by Matt “Max Headroom” Frewer as the labyrinth-constructing inventor Daedalus.
Hard to say if this series would please the gods, but it certainly caters to trash-loving mortals.
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