$250M for the rights. $750M for the production budget. Who says you can’t buy quality storytelling? I do this in this review. You simply can’t. And THE RINGS OF POWER proves this.
Have you ever been on a date with a beautiful person at an expensive restaurant, only to have zero chemistry with that person and a mediocre meal? Something just isn’t clicking. And maybe feelings will grow from there, and you may give this person another shot since they started to show signs of life in the second hour of the date. But you can’t seem to get yourself excited about it.
Watching the first two episodes of THE RINGS OF POWER was like that.
Metaphors aside, getting into the show’s specifics is a spectacle to behold. Easily one of the best-looking series ever put to streaming. But at the same time, everything we see is everything we’ve seen before. So where’s the “WOW” factor? It’s a transparent emulation of how the Peter Jackson films looked, and in many ways, it does achieve a similar feel, but in the end, you know it’s emulation. And sadly, because you’ve seen it done better and for a fraction of the cost, the greatest strength the series has (the spectacle’s budget) makes it feel all the less impressive. But I admit, it’s still gorgeous all the same.
Less successful is that it simply hasn’t captured my interest in the characters and situations playing out on screen in its first two hours the way other recent fantasy shows have, namely Netflix’s THE SANDMAN and even HBO’s HOUSE OF THE DRAGON. HOUSE OF THE DRAGON is a perfect example of a franchise retreading old territory but getting you to invest in the drama on screen. I care about Rhaenyra Targaryen because of relatable writing, intriguing and sympathetic family drama, and appropriately executed screen time for the character within the first two hours she’s been introduced. However, because THE RINGS OF POWER insists on getting you to invest in so many characters simultaneously, the storytelling execution feels fractured, and the pacing feels both too slow and too scattered. We don’t spend nearly enough time with any single character to get invested in them during the first two hours they appear. But the time we do get with them is spent with inefficient flowery dialogue that, again, feels like an emulation of Tolkein quotes from a writers’ room of people blatantly going, “Hey, that sounds very Tolkein. Put it in the script!” yet does nothing to endear you to the characters or care about their situations. And thus, things end up feeling forced when they need to feel organic.
Just think of the way we were introduced to The Shire and Frodo Baggins or Gandalf the Grey’s initial introduction. Those first short minutes introduced us to this new world we’ve never seen and the relationship between these two characters, while all feeling natural and lived in. And I was not getting the same connection to THE RINGS OF POWER as I did instantly from the 2001 FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING film. Maybe it’s to do with lofty expectations. But you can’t spend that much on a show, hype it up so much, and deliver a product that is simply this hollow or mediocre. They spent so much time buckling under the pressure of making the show look fine that they forgot to focus on really getting us to care about the story or characters.
The second half of the debut ends up being a great deal more exciting than the introductory episode and is enough to keep me vaguely interested in seeing more. Even though the characters that have been introduced haven’t earned our affections (I keep calling one character “Nora” because that’s who she played in How I Met Your Mother), there’s still a better sense of tension, progress, and excitement courtesy of second episode writer, Gennifer Hutchison (Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul). And I think maybe that provides a glimpse of hope regarding where the series is going.
At the end of the day, I hope it does, and I hope the series only gets better from here. But as far as the first two episodes are concerned, we’re dealing with a show that’s just “fine.” And, to go back to the original date analogy, I’d like to paraphrase Roy Kent (Brett Goldstein) from the fantastic show TED LASSO:
“[It’s] fine. That’s it. Nothing wrong with that. Most [shows] are fine. But it’s not about [this show]. It’s about why the f*** you think [the show deserves your attention]. You deserve [$1B entertainment that] makes you feel like you’ve been struck by f***ing lightning. So don’t you dare settle for fine.”
Wise words, Roy. Wise words. If only you wrote the scripts for THE RINGS OF POWER.
THE RINGS OF POWER is now available to stream on Amazon Prime.