I’ve always been fascinated by the ancients, or the classical civilizations such as Egypt, Greece, and the Roman Empire. We laid much of our own civilization upon the foundation built up by these mighty societies, and yet they existed so long ago, and some of their customs seem so strange that they may have well lived on another planet. So when the perpetually misspelled SyFy Channel premiered Olympus, a saga of ancient Greek mythology, I was afraid…oh, so very afraid….
Taking place in 2015 BC (ah, I see what you did there!), with the Greek city-state of Athens under siege by the Minoan army, a young man (Tom York) whose very name is a curse (but everybody calls him Hero) survives a deadly encounter with a Cyclops, and in doing so, meets up with a woman named Oracle (Sonya Cassidy). Oracle discovers that Hero has the Lexicon within him, which is a source of great power that can lead to opening the doors of Olympus, the home of the gods, to mere mortals.
Right off the bat, this isn’t an accurate depiction of Ancient Greece. Hell, it isn’t even an accurate depiction of the Greek Myths. When Olympus begins, and going through about two-thirds of its season, it plays like a low-rent version of Game Of Thrones meets Xena, with the show runners trying their best (and failing) to be as sexy as they can under the censorship of an advertisement-supported network like Syfy (Game of Thrones is on HBO, which allows them to be as wild and racy as they want). Instead of depending on sex to sell their series, the Olympus people should fall back on solid scripts.
But the writing isn’t as strong as it should be, with several characters–namely the members of the royal court of Athens–coming off as being nothing more than cardboard stock figures whose sole purpose is to provide exposition and throw a few monkey wrenches into the proceedings. The cast try their best with the material they’re given, but it’s an uphill slog for them. Standouts in the cast include Sonya Cassidy as the soulful-eyed Oracle, Sophia Lauchlin Hirt as the naughty vixen daughter of the Minoan king, and Matt Frewer, Max Headroom himself, as Daedalus, the legendary inventor.
Another problem with the series is its dependence on CGI not just in the effects scenes with monsters and mayhem (and in which they’re well done), but also for sets, as well. There are too many badly done shots of actors wandering around what looks like a bad video game screen. Maybe it’s because of this that Olympus lacks the sense of gravitas that’s needed whenever you watch a truly monumental story that’s being told on an epic scale. The cast and crew try hard, and they are to be commended for at least doing something different (the last batch of episodes make a break with all convention and take a leap right into the Twilight Zone), but sadly, Olympus never really shakes that feeling of being an also-ran. –SF