The 10th Kingdom was freaking great

There’s a good reason why I can never take Allegiance, a new spy drama on NBC that features a twisty plot of murder, espionage, and fake marital disputes, seriously. When I sat down to watch a few minutes of the show a few nights back, I almost screamed when I saw who was in the lead role.

Scott Cohen. Yes, the Scott Cohen. Appearing in over 80 television shows and a number of films (starting with Jacob’s Ladder in the 1990), Cohen’s career in acting has been a mix of playing disgruntled cops and the occasional slick-backed hair romantic.

And in the year 2000, Cohen starred in a show that’s pretty damn close to my heart and the reason why I can never take Allegiance seriously. Because he’s secretly a werewolf in the show.

The 10th Kingdom.

Starring Kimberly Williams, Scott Larroquette, Dianne Wiest, and Scott Cohen, the show/tv-movie played on NBC in two-hour segments. And while the show had a pretty strong production chops and a good cast, it didn’t exactly captivate critics; however, it captivated me.

Virginia Lewis, portrayed by Williams, is a waitress living in New York who is trying to make a living in spite of her father Tony, portrayed by Larroquette, who is a down on his luck maintenance man at their apartment.

Life in the big city is tough for their small family, but with her bike and a steady job at an up-scale restaurant, Virginia does all right for herself. She lives a normal life that is until a fateful encounter in Central Park.

One night during her ride to work, a golden retriever suddenly dashes out of a bush and gets hit by her bike. With her bike totaled and the dog ownerless, she takes it to the restaurant. However, Virginia soon realizes that this isn’t your typical dog. It can understand everything she’s says and the dog wants to take her somewhere. What she doesn’t know is that in the Nine Kingdoms, panic is growing.

Hidden away in the deepest dungeon of the Fourth Kingdom is the Evil Queen, a villain so reviled and insidious that she makes Lord Voldemort look like a garden snake. For her crimes, she’s been kept in isolation for years, but that’s about to change.

Busted out of jail by the Troll King, she starts down a path that would see Prince Wendell, a descendant of Snow White, is turned into a dog and mysteriously goes missing on the eve of his coronation. However, the Queen has a new plan that would see a replacement for the price be her pet and allow her evil forces to steamroll through the kingdoms.

But Wendell escapes and through a magic mirror is able to get to New York where he meets Virginia.

This meeting is catalyst for a series of mishaps that would bring Virginia and her father to Wendell’s land of fairytales and fantasy. There’s action and danger, love and romance, suspense and horror, and Warwick Davis playing a dwarf! Yeah…

Anyway, I adored the show and still own a copy of the original VHS boxset and the show’s magic is still intact.

***

Much like Once Upon A Time, The 10th Kingdom plays around with old fairy tales and fantasies by putting modern twists onto them. Divided into just three episodes at about two hours in length each, the story managers to pan out without losing its mind, but doesn’t get a chance to really delve into the funny stuff that could be done with the source material.

For instance, we meet Scott Cohen’s character Wolf in the first episode and one by one we see all of the werewolf / fairy tale wolf archetypes play though. He’s voracious, energetic, erotic, evil? Maybe. He’s hairy, acts like a dog, and actually howls too, so kind of a weird sight in downtown New York.

We learn that it’s Wolf’s job to hunt down the dog version of Prince Wendell before the bumbling Troll King’s children do. He’s bound by this agreement he made with the Evil Queen and has to report into her regularly. Of course, this causes some problems.

This guy.

This guy.

When he meets Virginia and spies her rosy cheeks, or does whatever else a perverted wolf would do to a virginal symbol (not too subtly on the naming choices there), he falls instantly in lusty love. Not like “I would love to eat you” werewolf love, but genuine elementary school “I Like Like You” love.

And yet he’s a wolf and has doggy problems like most do in popular media, and yet he’s not quite the same brooding, six-pack werewolf that’s portrayed in television and movies today. He’s really a tapestry of his time.

In the first episode, Virginia is accosted by the Troll King’s children who managed to get to New York. Thinking she was simply getting mugged, she decides to spend the night at her Grandmother’s house, but Wolf is hot on her coattails.

In a not so subtle allusion to Little Red Riding Hood, Wolf cartoonishly ties the grandmother up and tries to cook her in the apartment’s stove. Luckily, Virginia hears all this going down in the kitchen, picks up a broom, and knocks him clean out of a window. He picks himself, dusts himself off, and starts to realize that he doesn’t know a goddamn things about women and how they react, so he does what any dumb-witted male protagonist would do in a situation like this: he consults a therapist and a book.

On television today,  a werewolf is just conflicted character. We see them in shows like Being Human where they act just like regular human who just so happen to be werewolves or in Bitten where they’re like, “Oh no, we’re werewolves, how will we ever survive… *swoons*. Cohen’s character is just so full of life!

Sure, he’s just as conflicted as any other popular media wolf, but Cohen’s depth as an actor brings so much more to the table.  He acts like a dog and runs around like a madman whose had too many treats and we see how Virginia and Tony, regular New Yorkers, interact with the larger than life kind of person he is.

But in these modern werewolf days he simple doesn’t fit in.

Wolf is the show’s cartoonish foil and undoubtedly Virginia’s love interest. He’s your atypical conflicted villain who wants to be good, but must do wrong because that’s who he is deep down inside. Wolf’s struggle in dealing with his Wolfy tendencies, his love for Virginia, and his duty to the Queen, and we see this struggle come to a head in the show’s second episode.

In episode 2, Virginia,  Tony, and Wolf enter into a green pastured land with sheep grazing under blue skies and young girls skipping through meadows. It’s a beautiful place, a kind place, a place where things are pure and simple. There’s even a town idiot who sits by a dried-out wishing well.

Basically, Wolf is surrounded by things that a big bad wolf like himself would probably consider trigger objects. There’s an actual Little Bow Peep contest that’s going on and he’s so tempted to just disembowel Lucy Punch right when he sees her for the first time.

The show treats his werewolf tendencies like our world’s addictions. Near to the full moon, he gets closer and closer to being a wolf. He’s unable to control his urges and he lashes out against people who try to help him.

In the first episode, he explains to a therapist that some of his problems come from his mother and his upbringing. In the subtext, it seems like wolf was brought up to fear humans and revile being a normal person, yet he wears clothes and walks standing up. I wonder what his family looks like. If they’re just out in the wild running around on all fours and refusing to conform, which makes Wolf an outcast among his own and among humans.

There was room here for the series to get a bit darker, but as this is a family-friendly show it turns out that he’s wrongfully convicted and that he only went as far as eating a few sheep and a chicken when he was a wolf. The werewolf, unlike in so many fairytales, doesn’t get his or her due.

***

It’s a big of a slog going back to watch some of the show’s antics and it can be a little cringe-worthy at times, but it was still a damn fun time when I was younger and far less cynical.

And there are some pretty funny moments like the clip below:

***

With a show like The 10th Kingdom, there’s really only two ways you can handle it for a television audience. The first way is to make it like Once Upon A Time and have the magical characters appear in the real world and create problems for the protagonists. The other way is to do it like The 10th Kingdom and do away with the real world entirely taking the show’s character on a magical journey through a land where anything is possible.

Both solutions to the modern person in backwards magical land works, but I can’t say either way is particularly inspiring. Taking modern sensibilities into a fairy tale will almost certainly wind up with characters logically arguing their way through problems with ensuing hijinks.

However, the way of thinking in fairytales and fantasy is often seen as “pure” or “innocent”, which will end up showing how cynical the protagonist is compared to the the characters he or she meets.

We end up getting told a story like this:

Over simplification is the death knell for things like fairy tales because at heart they’re very complex tales where the story’s problem or main thrust is meant to either dissuade you from doing something or subconsciously provide an “aha” moment to the reader.

However, The 10th Kingdom has its deep moments and aren’t all contained to just Wolf’s character. He’s just the character I felt the strongest connection and understood the most out of the whole cast.

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