Netflix fantasy series Cursed tries to imitate Game of Thrones, but fails
Review: The R-rated show starring Katherine Langford squanders its promising spin on the Lady of the Lake.
Jennifer BissetFormer Senior Editor / Culture
Jennifer Bisset was a senior editor for CNET. She covered film and TV news and reviews. The movie that inspired her to want a career in film is Lost in Translation. She won Best New Journalist in 2019 at the Australian IT Journalism Awards.
ExpertiseFilm and TVCredentials
Best New Journalist 2019 Australian IT Journalism Awards
Cursed, a new R-rated fantasy series on Netflix reimagining Arthurian legends, has a lot on its plate. A coming-of-age tale following a young Nimue, aka the Lady of the Lake, its 10 episodes try to juggle war, a love story, a medieval land-spanning quest and a famous destiny that's ripe to be subverted.
Yet after a promising start, it becomes clear Cursed doesn't have a firm grasp on what kind of show it wants to be, failing to tie all those elements into one connected entity. Torn between young adult drama and R-rated violence, Cursed seems to decide it's best to wander into
Game of Thrones
territory, with political intrigue and a single impressive one-shot battle sequence.
The sweeping English valleys are beautiful, and some of the imagery evokes co-creator Frank Miller's comics -- Sin City, 300 and the graphic novel the show is based on. But disappointingly, Cursed's biggest, yep, curse, comes down to its main character.
The show ultimately fails its young female protagonist, who has all the cool promise of a sword-wielding heroine destined to lead her people to freedom. Instead, Nimue flounders in romance and absurd decision-making, with no real personality that lets her shine as the powerful enchantress she's set up to be.
Note: Minor spoilers ahead.
We begin when Nimue (13 Reasons Why's Katherine Langford) is selected to be the next Summoner of the Hidden. The role involves protecting her druid people by using her gift to call on the elements.
Instead, Nimue rejects the position, calling it a curse. She laments her people for casting her out, after a demonic encounter scarred her physically and mentally from childhood.
Along with comic relief best friend Pym (Lily Newmark), Nimue heads to the docks, but instead of catching the next ship out of there, they come across Arthur, played by Devon Terrell -- the first Black actor to be cast in the role.
Like most of the characters with legendary names who pop up in the show, Arthur has a few quirks that mark him as different from what we've traditionally seen. Aside from a beautiful singing voice, he's a scruffy knight who charms Nimue, setting up a love story that ultimately lacks authentic moments to earn the sparks that fly.
When the Red Paladins, magic-hating agents of the church, invade Nimue's village, she's tasked with bringing the Sword of Power to Merlin (Vikings' Gustaf Skarsgård). But Merlin isn't at his magical best, drinking away his sorrows instead of doing what his boss, a petulant Uther Pendragon, asks of him.
Politics among kings, including Viking leader Ice King and warrior queen Red Spear, simmer in the background and soon envelope Nimue. She must also decide what to do with the "cursed" Sword of Power, which everyone wants. Those who hold it can feel its dark history, involving plenty of sliced heads, making them question their own intentions.
While it's refreshing to see Nimue shed her traditional antagonistic role, as well as do more than simply hand Excalibur over to Arthur, she missteps in a similar way to Daenerys Targaryen. After going from naive would-be queen to religious figure inspiring the oppressed, Nimue's crammed into a storyline that takes all that triumph away.
It's frustrating, after we do see her grow throughout the series. Finally accepting her responsibility as leader of the Fey, she makes a few key decisions that pay off and, most importantly, rallies the woodland-type Fey tribes. She even earns a memorable title like the Wolfblood Witch.
But then she tosses the sword down a ravine in a sudden rage, and one character actually calls her out for being unreasonably "whiny." She never takes an episode with a mentor to explore the limits of her rare magic or gets a triumphant moment to bite back at her demons. Worse, she's confined to the sidelines in the final battle to save her people and stop the "age of men."
Nimue dips her foot into being the hero you want her to be with a Wonder Woman pump-you-up moment at the end of the first episode. Yet despite its intriguing spin on a legendary figure, Cursed fails to leave a lasting impact. Overlong and spread thin, it finds its focused pace and otherworldly atmosphere fading as surface-level Game of Thrones politics get in the way. The show is set up for a second season, but the most interesting aspects of its story already seem to be behind it.