Advance Review: SYFY's WYNONNA EARP Comparable to JESSICA JONES & FIREFLY, 'Embraces a Degree Of Camp'

"Wynonna Earp" image
Credit: Syfy
Credit: Syfy

Wynonna Earp Season One Episodes One & Two
Starring Melanie Scrofano, Tim Rozon, Shamier Anderson
Directed by Paolo Barzman and Ron Murphy
Written by Emily Andras

Part of what made the world of Firefly so densely interesting was the fact that the vast unknown of outer space was made familiar through the tropes and aesthetic of the Wild West. Wynonna Earp is, in many ways, an inversion of this. The titular hero does not live on a different planet, but the danger is so otherworldly and the sense of fear is pervasive enough that this feels like a word vastly different from our own. We are constantly disoriented from a world with which we are familiar. The opening attack on a bus passenger in the western American wasteland feels like an alien invasion. The show consistently pulls you from a distinctly American sense of rustic normalcy with a unique undead threat and brief glimpses of intense violence.

The new Syfy series tells the story of Wyatt Earp's descendent Wynonna, and the curse that has haunted generations of her family in the town of Purgatory. There is a surprising amount of lore built into the backbone of the series, but the show handles this gracefully, and most of the time doesn't feel like an exposition dump or a history lesson. When an heir to Earp's legacy turns 27, they acquire his skills, but every one of the 77 outlaws that died at Earp's hand resurrects as undead hellspawn known as revenants. It's the heir's job to use Wyatt's trusted Peacemaker revolver to systematically send revenants back to hell.

Having this definite and measurable goal from the show's outset is going to make the beginning of Wynonna's task seem somehow both tangible and overwhelming. 77 might be a large number, but it is still just a number. There are no endless hoards of the undead to make Wynonna's world seem bleak beyond redemption.

Credit: Syfy

Speaking of, Wynonna Earp has been garnering pre-air comparisons to AMC's juggernaut The Walking Dead and the CW's wait-it's-getting-a-twelfth-season Supernatural. That's not entirely fair. The revenants of are more akin to demons than anything Robert Kirkman writes, and the revolver to slay demons comes from the Wynonna Earp comic book title, which predates the Winchester brothers’ adventures by a number of years. If anything, the show is most closely related to Jessica Jones. Both feature a hard-drinking, foul-mouthed heroine who deals with a troubled past and a present conflict that are fundamentally connected. Both shows also embrace a degree of the camp that is found in their source genre (noir and western). Wynonna Earp isn't quite at the level that Jessica Jones yet, but it's pretty close.

Showrunner Emily Andras was previously a showrunner for the third and fourth seasons of Lost Girl, the best two seasons of that series. Her work on that show had two distinct highlights. The first was a Joss Whedon-esque command of the rhythm of dialogue. That's clearly present the Andras-penned first two episodes of Wynonna Earp. The second strength in the writing is more abstract, but can't be overlooked. The characters are not only well defined in who they are, but also in who they are in relation to the other characters. Wynonna and Waverly interact in only ways that they could interact with one another, but in a way that has a lot of differences from how they navigate the rest of the characters. Wynonna is different with Waverly, Agent Dolls, and Doc Holliday, but all in a way that is irrevocably within her character. This is true of most characters that populate the series' first two episodes, and I'm looking forward to seeing the interplay between all of these relationships in the upcoming months as the show airs. She also uses the first two episodes to toss several potential plot elements in the air. It will be interesting to see how these resolve and interact. 

Credit: Syfy

Aiding the strong writing is a few excellent performances. Melanie Scrofano's Wynonna is messy, but never in a trite, broken bird sort of way. Likewise, Dominique Provost-Chalkley excels in her role as Wynonna's younger sister Waverly. Scenes between her and Scrofano have a lightness and energy that makes them highlights of their episodes. Shamier Anderson's Agent Dolls, a Fox Mulder-type with more severity has some strong moments as well, though the character is woefully underdeveloped in the first two episodes. Tim Rozon manages to bring a combination of charm and intensity as Doc Holliday that frankly makes it difficult for any but the show's best performers (Scrofano and Provost-Chalkley), to not get completely overshadowed on-screen. In fact, much of the screen time for what appears to be the Big Bad is shared with Rozon, which makes it difficult to view the former as the legitimate threat he is clearly written as. I'm much more afraid of Holliday, and Holliday is much more compelling to watch. The reveal of the leader of the revenant's relationship with one of the Earp's childhoods does make the conflict personal if not outright compelling. It almost makes up for the fact that he was designed to look like a bearded Macklemore at Coachella. 

Of the two episodes I watched, the second one is stronger. Ron Murphy's direction is more consistent and never seems in conflict with the narrative or obtrusive like it did during some of the action sequences in the pilot. Without all of the difficult legwork of a pilot episode, the characters are able to more naturally interact. Despite the strange opener in a nightclub in small town Purgatory, the episode quickly rebounds and manages to create some strong suspense in its final moments. Both episodes excel in creating interesting climaxes, even if they are resolved fairly quickly. They both also have excellent scores, alternating between unexpected background music and ambience to add intrigue and dread wherever necessary. 

Credit: Syfy

The show is good genre television that has potential to be a breakout hit. It has the writing and the characters; it just needs to tighten up in a few spots. Regardless, I am eagerly awaiting the rest of the season to follow the already immensely likable characters. It will be nice to see how the overt conflict of the series is resolved, but it is going to be much more interesting to see the characters doing what seems effortless and natural, while also dealing with some of the tangents the show has potential to follow.

Wynonna Earp debuts Friday on Syfy.

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