Jan 23 2014

Why SyFy’s Bitten Demands Attention

Published by at 10:00 am under Books,Editorials,Television

bitten

It’s funny how things work out sometimes. Last week marked the return of both Lost Girl and Being Human for Powerful Mondays on the Sci-Fi channel (I will only use the doofy “Syfy” nu metal spelling for article titles to avoid confusion). While watching these season premieres, I couldn’t help but notice the commercials advertising another show in their supernatural series block, and the third to feature werewolves in the cast. Turns out Christmas came late.

It just so happens that the new show is an adaptation of one of my favorite novels, Kelley Armstrong’s Bitten. If you have not read it and consider yourself a fan of such things as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, you are possibly a lesser person because of this and you should correct this grievous oversight quickly. As I picked my dropped jaw up off of the floor having realized I was seeing a literal dream come true (okay, technically in my dreams it was animated, but I’ll take it), the first thing I thought was “why wasn’t I told?” I had no idea Bitten TV series was happening until it was already airing. Then I realized that I got to skip all of the anticipation and trepidation and simply had this amazing thing dropped into my lap one day as a wonderful surprise.    

Bitten is the first novel in Armstrong’s exceptionally imaginative Women of the Otherworld series, which has spawned some thirteen novels and many more novellas and short stories. I’ve read almost all of them and they make decorated modern fantasy/horror works like Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse series and Robin McKinley’s Sunshine look like child’s play. I’ve sang their praises for years, the whole time imagining the possibilities of a television series, and now it’s finally happening. This makes up for a lot of unwatchable Sci-Fi original movies. Not all of them, but a lot.

bitten1

So much “why?” in one image.

Before I go into gush overload, I’d like to point out that while the ceiling is sky high for what an Otherworld series could bring to the table in terms of televised brilliance, the first episode shows signs of underfunding that trouble me. Bitten’s CG is not so good and overused (an amateurish combination) and the show lacks the visual style that often sets great series apart from the forgettable ones.

That is to say that I really wish that someone more like HBO, Starz, or Netflix had decided to make this happen and go all in from the get-go. Sci-Fi’s budgetary concerns make me fear that this attempt at bringing something really special and unique to the small screen could die prematurely and never be tried again when it could be absolutely amazing given the time, support, and talent to develop it properly.

Bitten is just the tip of the Otherworld iceberg, and that iceberg is a rich and fascinating world filled with werewolves, vampires, witches, and demons of all kinds and brings it all together into a narrative that spans dozens of stories, a diverse list of charismatic leading ladies from all walks of life (and occasionally afterlife) whose supernatural powers pale in comparison to their personalities, and has something for everyone. Snarky humor, romance, sex, violence, horror, mystery, and fantasy are all standard procedure. When it comes to writing urban fantasy and strong female characters, Armstrong is a freakin’ beast, and incredibly proficient.

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Do you want to see this Otherworld of which I speak fleshed out on television? Yes. You really do. You may not know it, you may not think it, and you may even deny it, but you would be mistaken. Done right, this thing would rock. Just trust me on this.

But all of this is putting the theoretical cart before the actual horse. Right now, there is only Bitten as seen on the Sci-Fi misspelled channel. In spite of its rough edges at the start, knowing where this narrative goes gifts me with the knowledge that this story is something really special, even removed from the rest of the Otherworld mythology. In fact, I’m pretty confident declaring it the best-written lycanthropy story out there.

Bitten is the story of a woman forced into circumstances beyond her control learning to accept who she is and what she cannot change. It’s a story of female empowerment in a literally male-dominated world, and a supernatural tale of self-actualization amidst the bloody carnage of a bloody war between freedom and control. It’s a horror story and a tribute to true romance in all of its ups and downs. And it’s about werewolves. WEREWOLVES!

Elena Michaels is the consummate heroine. At one point, Angelina Jolie was set to play her in a proposed big screen adaptation that somehow never happened. I’m glad. Nothing against the mega-sexy A-lister, but Jolie is not only an almost exact physical opposite of the character, but her swagger likely would not fit Elena’s personality. Laura Vandervoort (Smallville’s Supergirl) has been given the role in the show and is an exact physical match at the very least.

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The rest of the cast consists mostly of the Pack, who are a family of werewolves that serve as a kind of governing body amongst their kind, actually resembling a benevolent shape-shifting mafia of sorts. Elena is an unwilling member of the Pack and the only female werewolf in existence. This makes her a target since weres outside of the Pack (referred to as mutts) aren’t necessarily the most well-behaved and nailing the only female werewolf in the world is a hell of a notch.

The Pack takes it upon itself to exterminate rogue mutts who do things like kill humans for sport to protect their race’s secret existence, and their chief enforcer happens to be Elena’s ex-boyfriend (among other things). Elena fled the Pack to attempt a normal life, but it’s not really a surprise that running away from your situation does not resolve it. It’ll always come back for you, even if you don’t go back to it.

Bitten is a story that should appeal to just about anybody, and I am hoping that the show’s creators can bring that out. What really excites me about this show’s prospect, though, is the opening credit that reads that the show is based not only on the novel by Kelley Armstrong, but on the Otherworld novels by Kelley Armstrong. This implies that if this first season flies, they have designs on bringing the rest of the universe to life. I’m sorely disappointed by the lack of quality fan art of the series, but I do kind of love this adorable character sampler by Manda5.

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From top left: wolf, wolf, alpha wolf, fire demon, teleporter, celebrity necromancer, witch, witch/sorceress, sorcerer, cabal sorcerer, ghost/guardian angel, chaos demon.      

 There is enough Elena material in the books to cover several seasons, but integrating the rest of the women (and men) of the Otherworld and their stories into the show could lead the series in all sorts of cool new directions, even if they choose not to focus on them as the books do. There is a crazy amount of potential here.

The first episode was a decent set-up and the second had some impressive action stuntwork. Vandervoort’s performance as Elena so far has been slightly uneven, but that could be intentional due to the character having not coming into her own in the story yet. She’s in an uncomfortable position and so her strength of personality and playful snark have not been on full display yet.

Like Lost Girl, the show is being produced in Canada and this is a Canadian series from a Canadian author so it’s fitting. But also like Lost Girl this comes with slightly lower production values than what we are used to from top-tier American shows. Hopefully this effect wears off as the production team gains experience.

Even if Bitten crashes and burns to become yet another one season wonder television casualty or ends up sucking, I highly recommend the Otherworld series to anybody looking for something cool and happening in supernatural fiction to read. You can’t really capture an author’s style onscreen and Armstrong probably has the finest talent for first-person narrative I’ve ever read.

But in the meantime, supporting this show to see if it can grow into something amazing would be in the best interest of anyone who prefers imaginative fiction over reality television’s dull attempts at scripting bizarre people’s lives to deliver freak shows and make household names out of scumbags and unremarkables. This week on Bayou Wheelchairs, Big Bob enters the county asskicking contest and sounds off on the genetic inferiority of lesser races! How about we all watch a true artist’s awesome work of imagination come to life and give it a chance to develop instead? Just this once?

 





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3 responses so far

  • Amy Gurley

    OMG did I write this?? I am in the same exact boat! I had no idea Bitten was even made until I set up my Series recording for Being Human. (It kinds of irks me when Syfy says “an original series” when really, it’s not, but I digress). I am begging syfy to uphold this series and follow the books to the best of their ability (not go off like they did in Being Human but actually I enjoy syfy’s version better, now). Kelly Armstrong’s werewolves are the BEST, IMHO. The idea that you can change whenever u want, into a real wolf, and still mostly retain your humanity, and also have cool extra powers as a human… pure gold. The whole storyline with all the different species and how they interact is incredible. I can’t wait for them to get deeper into her books!

    • http://nickverboon.wordpress.com/ Nick Verboon

      Thanks! I’ve never encountered an Armstrong fan outside of her message board so I’m glad you dropped your two cents in. She is crazy underrated as a writer.

  • Walt_Longmire

    I was pretty excited about this show, but honestly I found it going nowhere. I bailed out on it three episodes in

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