So I've been watching the CW's fantasy series, The Outpost. I don't know that I would have even known it existed, except that Dean Devlin - from Leverage - is one of the producers. That's also what pushed me over the edge to turn it on, besides the fact that it's a fantasy series and I have a certain perverse desire to see those succeed.
At first encounter, The Outpost is purely formulaic, cliche fantasy. There's an evil empire, which has taken over from the rightful rulers, and goes about oppressing people. The main character is a Strong Female, an orphan whose village was slaughtered and is now seeking revenge. She has incredible fighting ability for someone not formally trained. For goodness' sakes, her name is Talon ... and this from a fantasy race that bears a remarkable resemblance to elves.
But then the little details start creeping in. Those "elves" are Blackbloods, which gives our heroine some trouble when she has to hide her injuries and her nature. The zombie-like creatures encountered early on are known as Plaguelings, and they have the neat (if nasty) detail of producing a venomous serpent mouth to attack their victims. The Lu-Qiri summoned a few episodes in is recognizably demonic, but cut from an insectoid cloth, giving it an unusual appearance, and it's very well done. (In fact, I think an inordinate portion of the effects budget was spent on the Lu-Qiri - more on that later.) What's interesting about the Lu-Qiri plotline is the particular way the creature plays cat-and-mouse with Talon. She may have called it, but she can't control it.
Most appealing, though, are the secondary characters. First is Janzo, the odd little brewer who works in the tavern. Janzo at first comes off creepy (and still does, at times - the actor walks a delicate line), but then the viewer finds out he's an awkward, weirdly charming, loyal nerd. The second character who really jumps out of the screen is Gwynn, the outpost commander's daughter, who is first seen gambling in the tavern before she sweeps down upon Talon and imperiously demands safe escort home. She's regal and mischievous by turns, able to wear the mantle of power but never taking it too seriously. She becomes steadily more important as the season progresses, and Talon can't figure out *what* to do with her ...
Captain Garret is nothing much to write about; he rescues Talon, and they start up an angry / flirtatious banter. There's even a scene where they have a fight, one overpowers the other, and Sexual Tension Is Rife (tm) until someone interrupts. (Come on, really?) That said, there are hints of depth to his character that suggest he could grow beyond the boy-toy role.
Overall, the cliche elements in The Outpost read like an attempt to make sure that the show is appealing and "safe" to people who aren't really familiar with fantasy - maybe those whose only exposure is the Lord of The Rings movies or perhaps a few episodes of Game of Thrones. It has all the flags to tell the viewer that "yes, this is epic fantasy" ... and let's face it, the first few episodes of Thrones followed the same strategy.
The big difference is budget. The Outpost clearly dumped a lot of its production budget into the Lu-Qiri and the Plaguelings, which effects are really well done ... and honestly, not enough into their stunt work or scenery. Some of the wide shots are painfully obvious as CGI renderings. But let's face it, how do you make these decisions when there's only so much money to go around?
Still, as The Outpost continues, the characters expand and the world trickles in, and one gets the feeling that it's poised to depart from the expected beats of stereotypical fantasy, and where it does to continue to follow the lines, it can do them well. *If* it gets the budget to expand for season two ...