So, I suppose it’s unfair to compare Netflix’ “The Order” to shows of the same genre made about 20 years ago. But what’s truly unfair is the shlock passing for quality these days. Remember witty dialogue? Remember well developed characters? Remember dialogue that consisted of more than swear words? I do. These days smart ass, flippant and glib banter encompass the variety we see. “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”, “Angel”…where are you now?
I blame the corrupting influence of the WB. The irony is not lost on me, I know. What at first made the WB special, original shows written by talented writers, has now after two decades of evolution, developed into mediocre imitations of greatness. It’s as if someone took out pieces of shows that worked like, “Buffy” and the recent “The Magicians” and randomly placed them in a different puzzle.
Here’s the puzzle we’re working with today: “The Order” is about two warring secret organizations, The Hermetic Order of the Blue Rose, those who practice magic secretly for unknown reasons, and The Knights of St. Christopher, werewolves who kill the practitioners of magic because magic is…bad?. Spoiler alert! Our hero finds himself in both groups. And to give the story that extra umff, Jack the werewolf magician is only interested in joining the groups so that he can avenge his mother’s suicide, which he blames on the leader of the magicians, wait for it…his dad! Of course, the ‘Magus’ doesn’t know he has another son, but don’t worry, he will soon.
“The Order” has learned some lessons from “Buffy…” but hasn’t learned the ultimate lesson of style and restraint. Instead, it blandly stumbles along merely stepping in the footsteps of greatness without making it’s own imprint. It’s as if they decided to make a story without the usual trappings of character development, suspense, plot reveal and story arc. What a refreshing concept! A story written by a 6th grader!
For instance, we learn very little about Jack except that magic already plays more than a fleeting role in his life, even before he goes to college. We learn that he’s obsessed with the college’s history, that he’s smitten with a girl he just met who, as it happens, is already in the secret order (but she can neither confirm nor deny this, wink.). He also looks a lot like a young and adorable Kevin Bacon. This is one of the show’s few advantages.
In “The Order” the characters all pretty much behave the same. Bad guys behave badly. Good guys try hard and fail. But do we love them any more for it? No. We barely notice; every character sounds the same when they open their mouths – glib, unimpressed, superficial and unauthentic. Jake is the poor, orphaned townie, other newbies portray snobbish horror that someone of his social status and breeding should be considered for membership into such an elite club. (What do they actually do anyway?) The Asian girl, Gabrielle is slutty, superficial, narcissistic and soulless, cue short Catholic school girl skirt, pig tails and a lolly pop, the gay guy is her bestie without a spine. Other significant characters include the werewolf pack (aren’t wolves supposed to be loners?), which boasts a werewolf bartender remarkably like the bartender in the far superior “The Magicians”. But no one is as fun and cute as Buffy or as delectable and hauntingly romantic as Angel.
A major part of the difficulty lies in how the world they live in is defined and revealed. Which is to say, the details are lacking. What “The Magicians” did well in the first season was to define the lead character’s ailment or problem and establish the world in terms of helping him solve that problem. The normal world was just too normal for Quintin . When the magical world is slowly revealed to him, he gulps it in like a thirsty man whose been living in a desert. We want some water too!
The collegiate world in “The Order” offers no other worldly fountain of magic, but instead relies on scary masks, and other horror show rip offs. It simply dumps a bunch of magic potions and wands on us and says, “Here it is!”. And then there we are, wondering why we don’t feel connected to the characters or particularly care what happens next. It’s because we don’t have a dog in the fight, or a horse in the race, or any other euphemism.
But there is one shining exception, and this came as a great surprise to me. Jake and his love interest, the afore mentioned crush who may or may not be in the order, have beautiful chemistry! While it’s not immediately apparent, kudos to the actors and even the writers, it blooms unexpectedly and charmingly in the hotel room, where it seemed that real people were actually really interested in each other for reasons other than magic, and that true love was on the horizon. A big shout out to the director of that episode. The scene was filmed with refreshing honesty, and dare I say, sweetness.
And so while I cannot recommend this Netflix show, I can say, reluctantly that it does get its sea legs as it progresses and I did sort of, kind of, maybe want to see season two. Jake Manley plays our hero Jack Morton. Sarah Grey plays his love interest, Alyssa Drake. Other notables include: Max Martini who plays Jack’s unwitting dad and ‘Grand Magus’ or boss of witches, whichever you prefer, and Katherine Isabelle playing Vera Stone, ‘Magus’ or head witch as I call her. Now playing on Netflix.