‘Cursed’ Review: Netflix Take on Arthurian Legend Deserves Respect for Embracing Some Wild Weirdness

     July 18, 2020

cursed-katherine-langford-sliceThere’s not a lot of subtlety to the title of Netflix’s Cursed starring Katherine Langford as Nimue, the mythical Lady of the Lake destined to one day give the Once and Future King his sword. While offering a new modern take on Arthurian legend that could have gone hard on the girl power angle, the series is instead set in a world where magic and fey folk are real, but are persecuted hardcore by a fervent religious dictatorship.

There are flaws to be broken down — for example, there are few shows I’ve ever seen which could benefit more from a Game of Thrones-esque map to offer up even a vague sense of geography. However, there are a lot of fascinating choices packed into the series, based on the graphic novel created by Frank Miller and Tom Wheeler and showrun by Wheeler, largely driven by the supporting cast.

cursed-gustaf-skarsgard

Image via Netflix

In the grand tradition of modern-day adaptations of classic works, the Merlin here is no pointy-hat-wearing Disney character, but instead (to be blunt about it) a Hot Merlin Who Fucks, played by Gustaf Skarsgård. (Devon Terrell, who plays a young Arthur well before his eventual kingship, is also quite charming.)

One fascinating aspect of the show is how it actively zigs where past Netflix shows of this genre have zagged, in particular in The Witcher. Cursed is rich with bright colors — like, you can actually see what’s happening in nearly every shot! And while it does feature a level of violence that would actively nudge the MPAA to consider an R rating (mostly for the amount of blood and gore), it only occasionally feels like it’s stepping over a necessary line.

There are rebellious lesbian nuns, an underground railroad for escaping fey, no shortage of violence and medieval grime, some beautiful creature design implemented to capture a wide variety of fey tribes, and some visually striking animated sequences that serve as transitions. There’s a talking demon bear at one point. Merlin talks to his horse and his horse can understand him. If you crave originality or weirdness in your fantasy TV, there’s plenty to enjoy here.

cursed-lace-akpojaro-lola-shaw-julian-seager

Image via Netflix

But beyond some clunky and predictable dialogue (if you’ve seen much television at all over the last decade, you’ll be able to predict a lot of upcoming lines), the biggest flaw is Nimue — whether it’s on Langford for failing to really sell key moments or the writing for leading the character to make dangerous or at times even dumb choices, the ostensible focus of the show fails to come together.

Even before leaving her home, Nimue is an object of scorn to her fellow villagers who know she has special powers, and it’s kinda a bummer just how many scenes involve armed men chasing after a terrified Nimue, screaming at her about how she’s a demon and a witch and trying to kill her. On the positive side, she eventually regains some agency by the end of the season. On the negative side, that takes a pretty long time, and even when she seems more seated in her power, it still feels lackluster.

As opposed to a coming-of-age story about a lesser-known figure in classic mythology, it’s everything else that makes the show interesting. Fortunately, there is a lot of “everything else,” but what should be the show’s strongest element ends up being its weakness.

We’ll have more Cursed coverage soon, focusing on the season’s ending and some of its more wild twists. For right now, if wild fantasy is at all of interest, give it a shot, and read our spoiler-free interview with Terrell.

Grade: B-

Cursed Season 1 is streaming now on Netflix.

Television