Review: Wynonna Earp (2016 – )
A surprisingly entertaining supernatural, western-themed, weekly adventure show on SyFy. Certainly an alternative to CW’s long running, more teen-focused Supernatural, but I fear it will not get the following or even half the longevity of its more established rival. Worth checking out to see if it is your cup of tea.
An adaptation of the limited comic series from Image Comics, Wynonna Earp diverges in a number of ways to appeal to a broader TV audience. The unfortunate aspect of this is that due to Supernatural’s liberal borrowing from a multitude of sources and its long-established run, Earp feels a little derivative, despite being the earlier intellectual property. Tonally the two shows are actually quite different, and certainly Earp is the more ‘adult’. But in terms of production value, Earp has a long way to go, and unless there is a remarkable upsurge in its popularity, this show will never attract the kind of budget that will do it justice.
The basic premise of the show is that the central hero, Wynonna (Melanie Scrofano), is Wyatt Earp’s great-granddaughter, and has inherited the family curse… namely that every generation of the Earp family has to deal with any outlaw put down by Wyatt’s famous gun returning as a revenant (undead/demon/supernatural bad guy). This generation’s reluctant saviour is Wynonna, a hard-drinking, smart-mouthed, former wild-child, who has been dragged back to the family homestead by familial obligation. She doesn’t want to be the hero, she isn’t the world’s greatest shot, and her quick temper and quicker tongue sometimes get her into more trouble than she can easily deal with.
Luckily she isn’t on her own. She is aided by her perky, optimistic, bar tender, and family history-obsessed younger sister, Waverly (Dominique Provost-Chalkley). Also joining team good guy is Agent Dolls (Shamier Anderson), a US Marshall from a special division that deals with supernatural threats (think Hellboy’s BPRD but with a much smaller budget and no supernatural gadgets). Lastly there is the ambiguous Doc Holliday (Tim Rozon) who muddies the waters nicely.
Of course, sending revenants back to hell isn’t an easy job, and requires that Wynonna shoot them with Wyatt’s old gun, an oversized hand-cannon Colt. Here, obviously, the parallels to Supernatural become even more obvious. A supernatural Colt pistol that sends demons back to Hell, a family involved in generation after generation of demon hunting, a pair of siblings working together to take revenge on demons that killed their family and hunting down other supernatural threats to protect the innocent. Even the older, hard-drinking and more cynical sibling being paired with the younger, more intellectual sibling (admittedly sisters rather than brothers this time around) will strike some as eerily reminiscent.
Set against them are the Revenants led by humorously named, but still sinister and frightening, Bobo Del Ray (Michael Eklund). The Revanants are gathered together in a trailer park next to the mystical border that prevents them from leaving the vicinity of the aptly named town, Purgatory. Without giving too much away about the complicated family history, essentially Bobo was responsible for the murder of Wynonna’s father and other sister. As a result she bears a fairly strong grudge and as the series develops finds it harder to control her anger and desire to hunt him down and ‘kill’ him.
So given all the similarities to Supernatural, what really sets this show apart? The most significant difference is that Earp is clearly far more a Western styled show than Supernatural. From the landscape, the wardrobes, the colour palette, and the small town feel, this is a show that revels in the Western tradition. Admittedly it is set in the modern day and is no Deadwood, but I have to admit that I enjoyed the distinctive tone and flavour of the show. It really sets it apart from the rash of Teen and YA supernatural shows around that feel remarkably similar with their dark tones and modern urban settings. Earp eschews all that, and brings the supernatural down to the dirt of small town living in a nowhere town.
Another significant factor is that the heroes are sisters not brothers. It might seem like an obvious point, but this really adds a brilliant dimension to the show, and the interaction between Wynonna and Waverly bursts with chemistry and a real sense of sibling history. The fact that Wynonna is tough, but basically a brawler than a skilled fighter, and Waverly is the farthest thing from a tough ‘gal’, grounds the show with a level of believability that the uber-talented and supremely skilled heroes of other shows often forgo. Their banter and distinctive personalities and strengths really bolsters the enjoyment factor as they both muddle through as best they can, the enormously difficult and bizarre trials that lie before them.
I would also be lying if I didn’t say that the fact that Wynonna is a hard-drinking and sexually uninhibited character adds a lot to the show, because it is really nice to see a character like this that isn’t immediately judged and shamed for their actions. While Dean Winchester gets to sleep around and viewed as a ‘man’, there are far fewer female heroes that get to indulge in the same behaviour without a puritanical attack on their life choices (similar to Jessica Jones really, but Earp seems to be aiming at a slightly less bleak and dark tone and subject matter). So it really was a breath of fresh air. Also, Waverly’s potential bi-sexuality in the show and her flirtation with Officer Haught (Katherine Barrell), remains both endearing and a wonderfully positive portrayal of bisexuality that is routinely ignored in most shows. Don’t get me wrong, this doesn’t have the nudity and stark sex scenes of shows like Game of Thrones, it is strictly a PG-13 affair in terms of what is depicted, so it is far from titillating, but the show doesn’t shy away from allowing the young heroes to be engaged in casual relationships rather than needing them to be ‘in love’ and that lack of sanctimony goes a long way. The occasional ribald exchanges between the siblings feel far more natural than the enforced teen level discussions of ‘making love’ that we are often relegated to in similar shows that are aimed at that younger demographic. The earthiness also adds to the Western feel of the show and makes the characters feel infinitely more real than their teen focused counterparts.
Scrofano does a great job bringing Wynonna to life on screen. A wiry, tough, no nonsense character that is believable in a bar fight, but despite the dark past has a great biting sense of humour and Scrofano delivers the lines with vigour and believability. In contrast to Wynonna’s cynicism is Provost-Chalkley’s Waverly Earp. Waverly exudes waves of optimistic fun, coupled with a mischievous sense of humour that blends both naivety and as well as an unpretentious lust for life. Contrasting neatly with both of them is Anderson’s by the book, serious, and gravelly Dolls. He adds some gravitas to the endeavour, as well as some professionalism to their outfit, and shores up the role of experience that supports the two women. But of the main cast, he is easily the weakest character thus far, and one could imagine any number of actors filling in this role. It should be noted that this is a criticism of the character as developed thus far, and not Anderson’s portrayal. I really think he has been limited with what he has been given to do thus far in the season. However, the real highlight is Rozon’s Doc Holliday. With his Southern drawl, his gentlemanly manner, and some great dialogue, he dominates any scene he is in. While Dolls is something of a lacklustre entity in the grand scheme of things, and Wynonna and Waverly are great, it is Rozon’s Doc Holliday that really sells the show to me. I am sure the others will all improve and develop over time, but Rozon nails his role from the very beginning, and the show is all the better because of him. He is just a wonderfully realised character and Rozon clearly has a blast chewing off Doc’s snarky lines and being the old gunslinger and gambler in a modern age.
The supernatural, bad guy of the week, structure will be familiar to everyone, and so there is little more to be said about that. But there are some nice touches in the show the strongest of which is the real evocation of small town life, and the fact that there are a lot of old relationships, grudges and histories between the main characters and everyone else in town. Admittedly, due to the budget, the show doesn’t always look the greatest, but they do a lot with what they have. But another strength is the dialogue. The show seems to have lucked out when it comes to writers because it sounds great. There is a great balance between the real and the fantastic, the serious and the funny, and everyone gets a chance to demonstrate a range of registers and tones.
So why am I so pessimistic about the show’s future? I really wish I wasn’t, but there just doesn’t seem to be the buzz about this show that there should be. It might not have the profile and budget of Supernatural, but in a lot of ways it is a lot more fun, and great deal more interesting. If you have a chance, give it a chance. It is fun, engaging, and surprisingly well written for a budget genre show. Plus who doesn’t love Doc Holliday?