Monday, August 5, 2013


A few weeks (months?) back, one of my readers commented or emailed me that I should check out the new "Sinbad" television show on the SciFi (or, rather, "SyFy") network. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to do so until this last week, when I caught about four episodes (the only ones "On Demand"). I'm a little sorry now that I missed the show but it's not too improbable. For one thing, I watch too much TV anyway (with what little free time I have). For another, I almost never watch series shows that are "fantasy" or "science fiction" in nature...for my fictional viewing pleasure, I'm usually watching stuff like Downton Abbey, MadMen, or (more recently) House of Cards. Even Vikings (which I wrote about a while back) is at least semi-historic in scope (it is on the History channel, after all)...but as I'm a sucker for anything with axe-wielding Norsemen, that's hardly indicative of my usual tastes.

Sinbad is not an original SyFy series...instead it was an English television show produced circa 2011. The cast is mainly young, but quite good considering their age (the lead actor, Elliot Knight, had not yet graduated drama school when he was cast to star in the show). Unfortunately, per the internet it was cancelled after it's first season, which is too bad for a number of reasons...however, it wasn't what I'd call Emmy-award winning television, and many of the cast members have already been picked up for other projects (it's always nice to see young actors getting work in their trade).

As said, I wouldn't call the show exceptional, at least with regard to quality of its writing...probably somewhere around the same quality of CW shows like Arrow or Supernatural. There's an ensemble group of misfit characters, an over-arching plot arc, and a series of weekly "adventures" usually serving to reveal a little something of one or more character's backgrounds...pretty formulaic stuff, though with quite adequate special effects and set dressing. What was interesting to me was the fact that the series and the protagonist characters could easily be lifted straight from a campaign/saga using my 5AK rules. There are a couple exceptions, sure (I don't have a "noble" or "academic" class that would be suitable for the characters Nala or Anwar) but everyone else? Yeah, pretty much.
A rather motley crew.

It's funny: a lot of the press I've seen on this show has to do with the diverse ethnicity of the cast, including the non-caucasian Mr. Knight in the title role. To me, though, this is totally reasonable for the setting...Basra of the 8th century had many people of different ethnicities and quite a few folks of mixed heritage due in no small part to the Arab slave trade (said slaves being mainly foreigners conquered by the armies of Islam, and many of whom earned or were granted freedom within their lifetime). A Sinbad of mixed heritage (as the show's character is: both his grandmother and mother appear to be caucasian), would not have been unusual, nor would it have been unusual for a member of the ruling class to be of dark skin and a street urchin-thief to be caucasian. For the setting and time in question, the real class lines were drawn along religious ones (Islam was the ruling party, and non-Muslims tolerated if still 2nd class).

Which leads me to my one gripe about the show: the complete lack of religion or spiritual worship on display. At least in the episodes I watched I didn't see anything...hell, I don't remember hearing the name "Allah" uttered by any of the characters (there may have been some reference to God when the Naveen Andrews character was getting sworn in as the new Emir, but I don't remember this being the case). And that's pretty utterly ridiculous. In the Sindbad translations I've read, they're pretty much in agreement that Sindbad started his adventures from the city of Basra (only later, after many voyages and accumulation of wealth did he eventually move to Baghdad). And this particular "re-boot" of the Sinbad legend likewise cites Basra as his city of origin (and in this particular the case, the origin of most of his troubles).

Well, Basra was established by the Muslims in the 7th was a originally a military garrison that grew into a thriving port city due to its proximity to the sea (and the trade from the Baghdad up-river, which was itself founded by the reigning Caliph only a hundred years later). This was not an Arab or Persian metropolis that later converted to was founded by Islam with the express purpose of defending Islam and its interests. Yes, there were individuals of other faiths (and those lacking any faith) walking its streets, but mosques and minarets and calls to prayer and the teachings of Koran should have been at least been somewhat on display for a city permeated by religion during the height of Islam's Golden Age. The conspicuous lack of religious undercurrent bugs me; compare that to the Vikings television show and the attention it pays to this important aspect of medieval life and you can a big reason why one comes off as a rich "slice of (historic) life" and the other as a somewhat bland (if exotic) adventure show.

And it's too bad because it's not a terrible adventure show by any means. Again, it's highly reminiscent of my 5AK play-tests, and not just because of the setting. For the most part, the character's aren't particularly "fight-worthy." Which is to say, they don't all emulate RPG characters designed to "kick ass" in their own particular niche. Instead, the foes they face - both supernatural and mundane - have to be circumvented in other ways: through evasion, or deception, or negotiation. A trained soldier in full mail armor, mook or not, is no one to be trifled with...and a pack of such soldiers are something to be avoided at all costs, not faced down with a sword and a bandolier of throwing knives and a ready fireball spell.

Of course, there is no "fireball" spell in 5AK nor (apparently) in Sinbad; at least, not in the episodes I watched. Magic and the supernatural (in many forms) is present in every show I watched, but definitely of a more understated, sorcerous variety...the same kind that I tried to incorporate into 5AK. But then, I also tried to link magic with the Jinn mythology of the Middle East and this, too, seems to be lacking from the Sinbad show.

Anyway, I'm not really trying to nitpick the thing...really. It's an interesting show, and it IS cool to have such an ethnically diverse cast of characters starring in a show where the issue is neither forced nor contrived (just like it's nice to see young actors getting work, it's nice to see non-white actors getting quality roles that aren't dependent on stereotypes. I mean, the only character that's really "stereotyped" in Sinbad is the blonde, ex-Viking...but what can you do about that?). And it's especially neat to see an adventure serial that doesn't have every episode wrap up with a sword fight or gun fight or other type of encounter requiring violence and force for the protagonists to win the day.

At least I think so...but what do I know? The show was cancelled after all.

Sailing off into the sunset...

1 comment:

  1. I think I mentioned the show in a comment on one of your posts regarding 5AK...or maybe it was in an email to you?? Can't remember. Anyway, yeah, it was sort of interesting, but I was left a bit cold. The show just didn't engage me...and probably most viewers, given that it was cancelled. What kills me is that SyFy will pick up a cancelled show...or did they pick it up not knowing that fact, or thought they could revive it?? Ah well, at least it existed for a time, and revealed perhaps some interest out there for 5AK-type adventure! I was wondering if you checked out those Howard Andrew Jones novels (including The Desert of Souls) and The Crescent Moon Kingdoms by Saladin Ahmed. I've only skimmed them, but they definitely seem like good 5AK fodder.