Richard Madden (Robb Stark of Game of Thrones) must be experiencing déjà vu all over again. What with winter coming, all those wolves, and an opening credit sequence that resonates so closely to Thrones’, it’s a wonder he doesn’t get his lines confused. One wonders too, coming from the heights of Westeros, what it’s like for him to be trudging the snow and mud of Klondike – it must be like moving from the bountiful complexity of three dimensions into the limiting superficiality of two. Poor Richard Madden, it’s not his fault, but it didn’t have to be this way.
It looks like The Discovery Channel wanted to pick up what was started by HBO (The Sopranos, The Wire) and followed through with AMC (Mad Men, Breaking Bad) and Netflix (House of Cards) by creating its first scripted drama. While it has elements of these earlier breakout hits, like the period realness of Boardwalk Empire and the Western feel of Breaking Bad, it sadly does not bring with it the requisite compulsion for watching the next episode in the same way these modern classics have. With Ridley Scott as executive producer, we expect more than the non-stop torrential rain and darkness that seems to have been imported straight from Blade Runner. Ultimately, by the end of the miniseries, Klondike is like a handful of iron pyrite (fool’s gold) rather than the real thing.
The conceit of the series is compelling enough, as we are led to the late 1890’s Yukon gold rush, with New York youngsters Bill Haskell (Richard Madden) and Byron Epstein (Augustus Prew) seeking their fortunes in the untamed wilderness of Northwest Canada – just short of Alaska.
Episode One, in an effort to draw us into their adventure, rapidly takes us through a series of adventures: avalanches, bar brawls, and near-escapes that, despite the breathtaking scenery, do not endear us to the protagonists. Instead it’s just one near escape after the next, which gets kind of boring. Without developing that crucial sympathy for the main characters, we are dependent on the story alone to see us through until we can develop some empathy for the characters.
Here, at least, there is some hope. Avoiding spoilers I’ll suggest that some things happen in the narrative that are diverting enough for the average watcher to hang out to see what happens. There are several threads in the narrative, however standard (the love thread, the will they find gold thread, and the revenge thread), that lend enough suspense and curiosity to keep you going.
However, the overall narration is irritating in that it presupposes some kind of profundity, where there really is very little. Within it is a heavy sense of wearied existentialism that feels platitudinous and flat. Further, the potentially interesting period political issues around native peoples and women (so beautifully dealt with in Mad Men in its treatment of women and African Americans) feel rather cack-handed here lacking direction and purpose. What we end up with, to use an apt expression, is all fur coats but no knickers.
Given the production value of this show, its unarguably amazing cinematography, and smorgasbord-for-the-eyes recreation of the heyday of the lawless Dawson City, it nonetheless fails to hit the pay dirt of the current rush out West – falling short of inclusion into the hall of fame in the “golden age” of television
Klondike is available to own on DVD now!