Or Nah? is a feature where we watch and review the first episode of a new TV show. We’ll let you know if it’s worth checking out. As always, these reviews are the opinion of the reviewer, but we’ll try to adequately explain why you should or shouldn’t give the show a chance and provide shows for comparison.
What’s it about?
“Jason Momoa stars in a thrilling historical drama set around the cutthroat world of the 18th-century fur trade in North America.”
That is how I would like to be able to describe this series, and it is how I expected to be able to describe it when I first heard of Frontier, a co-production between Discovery Channel Canada and Netflix. Unfortunately, the true way to describe this series is: Jason Momoa highlights an otherwise uninteresting meander through the story of a guy trying to save his girlfriend. Also, some furs are involved, I guess.
That’s basically it. Granted, I have only watched the first two episodes, but there are only six in total, so I made it a full third into the season to form this opinion before tapping out.
Jason Momoa. Jason Momoa. Jason Momoa. He’s remarkably effective as Declan Harp, a half-Irish, half-Native American fur trader. There is not a moment when Harp is on screen where you feel anything less than impressed. He’s effortlessly intimidating and quietly charismatic, sure, but there are also moments of subtle vulnerability where Jason Momoa’s acting, as opposed to his oft-cited physical presence, reveals itself. Declan Harp, and his group, is a character I would have loved to see take center stage here. Regretfully, that simply is not the case. He’s talked about nearly as much as he’s present, but far too much of this story focuses on cliched, rote characters who are not him.
Also to be commended is the show’s opening. Not only is the series’ theme exhilarating, but the credits themselves are visually stimulating in a way that promises far more excitement than anything to be found beyond them.
Every moment when Jason Momoa is not on screen is a moment when you are painfully aware he is not there. The rest of the cast is, overall, very good; they are. The problem is the cast does what they can with just such uneventful writing. I did not set out to try and make this a scathing review, because I do not enjoy writing them, but my honest opinion is this show failed Jason Momoa, and it’s almost entirely on the writing. I mean, maybe it’s just a matter of the 18th-century fur trade not being as ripe for action as one might think? Nah, that couldn’t be it.
The two episodes I have seen were directed by Brad Peyton (Journey 2: The Mysterious Island, San Andreas), who also serves as an executive producer and co-created the series with Rob and Peter Blackie. His direction of these two episodes is wildly uneven. There are moments where the scene is visually striking, like Momoa smearing blood across the face of Landon Liboiron‘s Michael Smyth, but then there are also moments that feel like this is basically an episode of Wishbone where people sometimes get stabbed; the world occasionally feels flat and far too over lit as if it were on-stage, while other scenes look as though they may have been filmed in a world without even the concept of light. The extremes to which the direction oscillates is really quite jarring.
Nah. I will probably end up finishing the season at some point; not so much out of any real desire to see where the season ends but more so out of a need to finish something I started, and I do really like Jason Momoa. The fact the season, in its entirety, is just 4.5 hours does make that task a bit easier. If you are thinking about giving this a shot, though, I cannot say I recommend doing so. As good as Jason Momoa is, the show just does not deliver enough of a compelling story to justify even the short time it would take to watch it all.
I have not had a chance to check out Tom Hardy in Taboo, yet, but that series does stem from a strikingly similar premise and has, thus far, received better reviews than I have given Frontier, so maybe think about checking that out.