Plot: Recent East Coast college grads William Haskell (Richard Madden) and Byron Epstein (Augustus Prew) head to the wilds of the “klondike” in the Yukon Territory in Canada to find gold and strike it rich.
If there’s one thing to take away from the Discovery Channel’s first piece of original programming it’s this — Richard Madden does indeed have a long a career ahead of him.
Yes, when sifting through the muck and mud that is the plot, acting, camera work and pacing of the network’s mini-series Klondike, the only gold nugget to be found is the performance of the former Robb Stark.
Madden is perfectly cast as the book smart but street stupid East Coast kid with nothing but hope in his head and a few dollars in his pocket, headed to the Yukon region of Canada in order to strike it rich in the gold rush. Madden has this earnest, sincere look in his eyes, an air of boyish charm about him and yet he still has the room within the character to take things to a dark, angry and intense place. In many ways the role reminds one of Madden’s former Game of Thrones character, but the actoris able to finesse the performance enough to make any reference to Robb Stark merely a physical reminder.
Unfortunately for Madden, the mini-series he has entrenched himself in has more holes thanks a panhandler’s sifting grate. Honestly, there’s so much wrong here, it’s hard to know where to begin.
The acting in the two hour premiere, outside of Madden, is pretty atrocious. This is saying something since the cast includes: Sam Sheppard, Tim Blake Nelson, Abbie Cornish, Marin Csokas and Tim Roth. It’s not that the actors themselves don’t know how to act or give poor performances, it’s that they’ve been given little to work with. You know as much about these characters when you first meet them as you by the end of the episode. Yes, this is the premiere but shouldn’t you have a clue as to what any of these characters is about? For instance, in one scene Tim Blake Nelson is running the bar at a local hotel and at the end of the episode he’s out helping Haskell find gold at the behest of his employer. Um, what? Why? How? Who is this guy? None of this even addressed. Surely it will be addressed in subsequent installments, but give us a hint, make us want to find out more about these characters.
Then there’s Tim Roth, who is probably the most charismatic actor in the cast, yet he is relegated to a 90 second scene with Sam Sheppard towards the end of the episode. Seriously? If he’s going to be your villain (it is Tim Roth after all), then let us in on it, don’t make him so vague.
The series also does a terrible job with Cornish. They’ve taken a remarkably beautiful woman and just made her look downright plain and ordinary and not on purpose mind you. They did something to suck all the beauty of a naturally beautiful woman who’s supposed to be playing the strong, beautiful leading woman of the mini-series. Yes, this is a superficial argument, but it’s just a very noticeable and somewhat bothersome. We did mention Cornish’s character was supposed to be a strong woman, being the local lumber magnate and all, but man they killed that character trait off quick. Within 30 minutes of meeting Madden’s character she goes from self-made millionairess to a misty eyed woman dumbstruck with puppy love. Such a forced and ultimately illogical decision. If this character development had evolved over the course of the series, completely understandable..but within 30 minutes, ridiculous.
The problems with the acting fall directly in the lap of the director and writers. The director is also guilty of employing some of the worst, most unsteady handheld shots since you watched that student film your friend did 15 years ago. Yeah, that bad. The director also does an abysmal job of keeping up the pace of the film. It is a six-part series, but does the premiere have to be so excruciatingly slow? The show does open with two rather epic and thrilling action sequences, but the rest of the film grinds on at a lethargic pace. This isn’t like True Detective where each week the intensity gets slowly ratcheted up, this is just slow and painful.
As a series premiere, this episode was a disaster. It in no way hooks a viewer to event remotely want to return to the Discovery Channel every Monday night for weekly hours installments of this frontier mini-series. If you miss Richard Madden that much go watch old Game of Thrones episodes, even on that show’s worst day, it cannot company to the fool’s gold that is Discovery Channel’s Klondike.