Thursday, June 13, 2013


Episode 1: Pilot
By: Carlos Uribe

Sinbad is a British television series about the mystical adventures of the sailor Sinbad.

Spoilers Ahoy!

There are two kinds of shows: the ones with a serialized plotline that gets developed every week and the one where there's a different weekly plot. It's gotten more complicated as the latter has started to introduce serialized conflicts into it's framework. Sinbad is a pretty good example of this. The pilot might spend a lot too much time getting to the basic premise of the show but it sets up an overreaching narrative while promising weekly adventures. The basic idea behind the show is that the actions of the thief Sinbad accidentally leads to the death of his brother. His grandmother isn't too happy with him so she curses him so that he can only be on land for a whole day. He's basically been cursed to spend his life traveling on a ship until he can find redemption. The series has set up the excuse for the weekly adventures (the curse) while giving his character a strong motive (redemption). The promised serialized arc of the show comes from Lord Akbari. Sinbad had accidentally killed the lord's son at the beginning of the epiosde and Akbari wants revenge. He wants to kill Sinbad. He's going to be the recurring antagonist but his quest for revenge is also what's going to provide a serialized plot. Let's face it: a series could last in perpetuity of Sinbad searching redemption through his voyages. He would have no actual chance of finding redemption until the final episode nor would the adventures actually have to add up to anything. It's true that Lord Akbari's quest could easily be in perpetuity as well in the sense that every episode he has a plan that's foiled. There are three reasons that make me doubt that is the extent the series plans to take the character: the first is that he has no real plan in this episode. He gets to easily arrest Sinbad. The second is simply because he's not stuck in the ocean. He can interact with different characters that will hopefully allow the series to develop a serialized narrative over time. The final reason is because a huge portion of the episode is spent on building things up. This gives the impression that there's an actual narrative here rather than just an excuse for episodic adventures. I could be wrong. It's possible Sinbad is just going to be a show where the protagonist goes on weekly adventures as he foils Akbari's latest plan.

The pilot for Sinbad is surprisingly patient. It begins by introducing him and his brother as they run a con game during the street fights. They steal from an African diplomat and believe that they are going to have a great day. This serves as our basic introduction to Sinbad and it's an effective one at setting up his character archetype. The pilot then moves into the part where Sinbad, along with his brother, is arrested because the person he had been fighting was Akhbari's son. He had accidentally killed the son during the battle. The fates turn against him as Akhbari kills Sinbad's brother. Sinbad manages to escape prison before it's his turn but his grandmother curses him to seek redemption by going on weekly voyages. The pilot basically did two things there: it set up the antagonist and why he's so bent on taking Sinbad down. It also sets up why Sinbad is going to be leaving his city and going on adventures. The next part of the pilot is when he sneaks on board of a ship and it gets attacked by magical water creatures. He doesn't really do a lot but he is able to save the principal cast from dying. Everyone else is not so lucky. This is basically the part of the pilot that shows how the weekly adventures are going to be: Sinbad is going to be facing a weekly supernatural creature on his adventures. The final part of the pilot is basically the last shot as Sinbad is at the front of the ship with the main characters on board: a chef, another thief, a warrior, and the daughter of the diplomat. In other words, there's the ship's crew and the promise of the weekly adventures is in that shot. That right there is the mission statement of Sinbad. It's good at setting up the premise as it allows us to know the protagonist, lets us understand the stakes and different key players, and giving us a taste of what's to come.

The pilot for Sinbad isn't perfect and it's pretty clear with the protagonist. Sinbad is a character archetype but he never really develops beyond that despite all the time we spend with him. He's a con-man who is willing to do the right thing but he doesn't have much of a personality beyond this. There's no reason given for why he's such a thief in the first place and the only sense of edge the character could have (brother's death) is slightly forgotten by the end of the episode. The series spends a lot of time developing his relationship with his brother. It works because it makes his death have an actual impact but the brother could have also been written better. He could have been fleshed out as his only personality trait was that he always followed his brother around. Sinbad has set up it's premise but the reason we're going to want to watch this show is because of Sinbad. A character archetype is a way to start setting up a character but there needs to be work done on top of that so that he could become a strong character. At the moment, Sinbad is still just an archetype and he's not complex nor compelling enough to make for an effective protagonist. I'm sure future episodes should be able to fix this problem as they have more time to flesh him out but it's disappointing to see such a two-dimensional character after spending a whole episode focused around just him. So much so that none of his crew really have much of a personality. If you're going to sacrifice most of the time that would be spent developing other characters to develop just one then at least do it right. Sinbad got a lot right with it's premise but it didn't go far enough in developing the titular character. This basically leaves little reason to actually come back.

The rest of the characters are developed very sparingly. Akhbari has an excellent actor in Naveen Andrews, who is basically this show's version of Giancarlo Esposito: outshining everyone with a top-notch perfomance despite having a two-dimensional character. Akhbari is basically defined by the grief of losing his son and that's it. The ship's doctor is Anwar, who just wants to help. That's basically it. Sinbad is not the only thief on his ship as he caught Rina trying to steal stuff before the ship disembarked. All we know about her is that she's a thief. The ship's warrior is Gunnar, who is largely defined by how tough he looks. The diplomat's daughter, Nala, that Sinbad had earlier stolen from is also on the ship. She's probably the only side character to get her own small character arc where she goes from willing to show mercy on thieves to wanting to punish them. The only real impression she makes is that she keeps talking about the power of the vodoo head that Sinbad threw away. There's also the ship's cook but that's all I know about the character. In other words: none of them are really developed beyond the basic role they're playing. I'm sure more time will be spent fleshing them out as future episodes come but it also means that Sinbad is left on his own to carry the show. He's simply not a strong enough character to do that.

Sinbad has an okay pilot. It sets up the premise surprisingly well by being patient. It doesn't have a perfect plot but it does focus on the titular character. Sadly, Sinbad himself remains two-dimensional and he's not that interesting as a consequence. The time spent on him (and his brother) basically meant that most of the ship's crew remain undeveloped. It's good that the pilot concentrated on Sinbad but it also means future episodes are going to have to spend time doing something a pilot is supposed to do: actually establishing characters for some of the ship's crew. Overall, Sinbad could be a fun show for it's one and only season (it's already been canceled) but it's not one that sets itself to be appointment television.

Other Notes:

A character notes how science is basically causing magic to weaken but there's no sign of that when magic comes into play during the episode. Inconsistent internal rules, people!

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