Is 'Crusoe' Poised To Be A Waste of Your Time?
Is 'Crusoe' Poised To Be A Waste of Your Time?
As a strongly-promoted segment of NBC’s fall line-up, one can’t help but think of Crusoe as a program of epic proportions.  Shot in multiple locations and featuring a stories cast (Phillip Winchester, Tongayi Chirisa, Anna Walton, Sam Neill and Joaqium de Almeida, among others), you’d think that it’s one of the more worthwhile programs to find itself on your television screens this season.

After the two-hour premiere aired last week, though, it felt that there were second thoughts about the series. In summary, it’s been described as a lavish production with terrible pacing and terrible faith in the original story, Daniel Defoe’s novel Robinson Crusoe.  As BuddyTV’s Oscar Dahl simply put it, it “has its charms, but [it’s] ultimately unsatisfying unless you’re a 12-year-old boy.”
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Within the week after Crusoe first aired, television critics were quick to pounce on the show’s apparent flaws.  A problem quickly pointed out is the pacing, the way the show began with Crusoe (Winchester) already stranded in the middle of nowhere, and multiple flashbacks demonstrating his life when he was still happy in 17th century England.  Variety described the pilot as being “so committed to keeping things moving swiftly that tidbits of back story dribble out in haphazard, widely spaced flashbacks,” although it ends up existing merely “to augment the unknown leads with some more familiar faces in supporting roles.”  The San Francisco Chronicle’s Tim Goodman even described these appearances as “mini-cameos.”

Critics also pounced on Crusoe’s escapist qualities.  Well, it isn’t supposed to be a bad thing, but if it’s done at the expense of believability, then it’s a totally different thing.  “Demanding absolute sense or ironclad consistency from a show like this is … not only pointless but somehow unnatural,” the Los Angeles Times’ Robert Lloyd said.  “This is adventure stuff, not quite the stuff of big-budget Hollywood movies, but of a grandness rarely seen on television. It mostly wants you to say, ‘Gee!’ or ‘Yikes!’”

The New York Times’ Ginia Bellafante adds: “The writers seem to understand that Robinson Crusoe is something more than an 18th-century children’s book, but beyond turning out a wench with good cleavage, they don’t do much to prove it.”

And then there are the actors themselves. There’s praise for some of the actors—there was praise for some of the supporting cast, particularly mentioning de Almeida, Jonathan Piennar and Georgina Rylance.  Some thought that Winchester and Chirisa’s scenes are quite exploitative, for lack of a better term.  “Both men are shirtless most of the time, and that may appeal to women who didn't snap off the set when Robinson weighed the emotional scarring of his mother dying versus his dad crying,” The San Francisco Chronicle suggested.  Salon.com’s Heather Harvrilesky went a notch further: “Is this an elaborate gay fantasy disguised in the widely accepted folds of an age-old classic?”

So, on the basis of the first episode alone, is Crusoe bound to fail?  Well, who knows?  The pilot may be grand in scale, albeit shabbily edited and bound, but we still have twelve episodes to go.  Although some of the points raised—the show sacrificing the context of the novel for a straightforward swashbuckling adventure, which would make Defoe “want to make a very angry call to his agent,” as the Times said—seem to be a defining characteristic of the series, we might see the loose ends fixed up soon.  Maybe we’ll see entire episodes set in England, further elaborating the back story and the already well-crafted island that we’re introduced to.  Crusoe might have done something wrong, but they can still prevent it from becoming so wrong it’s unwatchable.

The show managed to score a respectable 7.4 million viewers on its first outing, with NBC claiming that it’s their best performance in the time slot since May.  Then again, it’s been beaten with other new fall offerings such as ABC’s Life on Mars and CBS’ Eleventh Hour and The Mentalist, so they do have a lot of catching up to do.

Tonight, a new episode airs at 9pm, and we’ll see Crusoe and Friday (Chirisa) spend more time together and try to put a dead woman’s spirit to rest, amidst frustrations of getting stuck in an island and all those sentimentality.  Twelve more episodes, then, before we can figure out whether Crusoe is really any good, or if it will just be a waste of time.


-Henrik Batallones, BuddyTV Staff Columnist
Sources: NBC, Variety, The San Francisco Chronicle, Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, Salon.com, The Guardian
(Image courtesy of NBC)

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