2023 is almost over, and now that the end is near, we can say that there was some great TV this year, particularly if you’re a fan of sci-fi or fantasy. Remember how everyone was into The Last of Us? Loki season 2 was the best thing to come out of the Marvel Cinematic Universe in a while. And although it divided some fans, we loved what Amazon did with the second season of The Wheel of Time. More of all of this, please.
But where there are successes, there are failures, and frankly they’re more fun to talk about. Here are five shows that came up short this year, starting with one that probably flew under a lot of radars:
The Winter King
We’re going to start with a show that didn’t get a lot of buzz, for good reason: The Winter King on MGM+. This show was based on The Warlord Chronicles, a trilogy of excellent books by author Bernard Cornwell, the same guy who wrote the books that Netflix turned into the rock solid series The Last Kingdom. But The Winter King proves that good source material does not necessarily equal a good show.
The Warlord Chronicles are about King Arthur, legendary king of the Britons. Cornwell approaches the topic with historical precision, cutting through the fairy tale vibe the story is often saddled with. Apparently the producers of the TV show didn’t pick up on that, because The Winter King plays fast and loose with magic, history and the laws of physics. In the books, Merlin is an ambiguous figure who commands respect and fear because he is thought to be in touch with pagan gods. On the show, he puts people to sleep with a wave of his fingers. In the books, Excalibur is a sword with a lot of symbolic value. On the show, it can be used to knock down brick walls. The Winter King sucks all the subtlety out of Cornwell’s books and replaces it with big Hollywood pablum.
The Winter King didn’t get talked about much, so why am I so bent out of shape? I’ll admit my interest is personal: I loved The Warlord Chronicles books when I was younger and was really looking forward to seeing them adapted. I’m not the kind of person to say that a TV show “ruined my childhood,” but the show certainly didn’t do it any favors.
In fact, I think I’m too close to accurately assess this show. There are good things about it. Some of the cast members do good work, and some stretches are more coherent than others. But if this show is going to have a second season — not at all a foregone conclusion — there need to be some changes made.