As a medium, TV has rarely been held up as a go-to destination for excellent action sequences and sprawling adventure plots filmed on location across the globe. For a long time, particularly inventive fight scenes and large-scale epics were somewhat restricted to the big screen, where budgets are higher and production schedules are more relaxed.
But in the past several years, a new vanguard of action- and adventure-heavy series has advanced the threshold of what was once considered possible to achieve on TV. And the action and adventure genres are now experiencing something of a renaissance, led by the success of shows like Game of Thrones, the hit HBO fantasy series that overlaps with both.
While Game of Thrones draws by far the most viewers and cultural buzz, there are many other worthwhile series out there that offer exciting action and an epic scope. Here are five underappreciated options that run the gamut from fun diversions to essential viewing.
Locarno in LA Review: Dark Skull
An intersection of work and life is a popular vector for character study in cinema, but Dark Skull’s version of the idea perverts it. Instead of his work either expressing who he is or motivating him to change who he is, Elder entering the mines only makes his externalities match his personality. The miners, and the film, spend long periods of time in tunnels, and even when it ventures aboveground, it’s only at night. It’s like a classical tale of the underworld – the work represents the true path forward, and woe betide those who stray from it. Elder strays almost immediately, and thus does the mine become his hell, a labyrinth of damp cold without any apparent exit. In one sequence, we see the mining process, and the detailed soundscape of the machinery and action and montage of flowing water and minerals makes it clear that this motion is the only life down here.
Locarno in LA Review: The Challenge
This isn’t wealth porn, though. Anacari observes it all through a wry eye, catching absurd moments like a bidding war over a falcon that hits increasingly ridiculous sums even as the participants don’t bat an eye, or the cheetah owner casually discouraging another guy from getting too close to his pet, or a revving SUV repeatedly failing to surmount a sand dune like a modern Sisyphus. In the funniest moment, a circus of cars doing sand donuts for fun is abruptly interrupted when one of them starts to roll over, but the camera cuts away just as it happens. Money ennobles nothing, instead exponentially escalating the scope and ridiculousness of man (and again, it’s all men) at idle play.
Locarno in LA Review: Destruction Babies
Think about the usual mechanics of cinematic fight scenes, and Destruction Babies does the opposite. The camera spectates from a cold, steady remove. There’s zero feeling of choreography, as combatants flail about messily, missing their punches and kicks as often as they hit. There are few fancy moves – men dance around one another until one of them pins the other and then proceeds to pummel him mercilessly, often with buddies jumping in to help. The soundscape is of slaps and grunts and muffled blows, no heightened Hollywood meat-crack effects. And they drag on, far past the point of comfort, as dogged and persistent as the teenage protagonist, Taira (Yûya Yagira).
Review: The Circle
Like an extended episode of Black Mirror but without a dark sense of humor or bleak horror, The Circle wails about how technology is affecting society with little grace or flair. The script, by director James Ponsoldt and author Dave Eggers (adapting his own 2013 novel of the same name), approaches the business of allegorical warning by displaying a parade of soundbites from any alarmist op-ed you can think of. Social media is causing us to overshare! Data collection threatens our privacy! Tech companies have too much power! These, mind you, are all completely true, but The Circle is less likely to make the viewer gravely consider than to get them briefly tut-tutting and then not think any further.