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Cursed: Critics highlight Katherine Langford's 'star power,' empowerment in new Netflix fantasy series

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Jul 17, 2020, 10:24 AM EDT

Hear ye! Hear ye! Season 1 of Cursed hits Netflix today and critics have much to say about the show that puts a new spin on the classic Arthurian legend. First off, let's address the White Walker in the room: according to initial reviews, this is yet another series that tries (and fails) to fill the massive fantasy void left by HBO's Game of Thrones.

That said, Cursed has the benefit of an engaging lead, Katherine Langford (13 Reasons Why), who is playing Nimue, a young witch and future Lady of the Lake. Yes, Arthur (Devon Terrell) and Merlin (Gustaf Skarsgård) do show up, but this is completely Nimue's party, infusing the epic adventure with a refreshing note of female empowerment that's long been missing from the Excalibur myth.

Another notch in its belt is producer input from legendary comic book creator Frank Miller, illustrator of the book by Tom Wheeler upon which the TV project is based. Miller's penchant for over-the-top violence is reportedly here in spades, so you won't be left wanting in the CG blood or wanton dismemberment departments. 

While Cursed may be uneven and overlong in certain places, reviewers sound optimistic that the show has the potential to become great in a second season. Let's just hope Netflix can pull Season 2 from the stone.

Showrun by Wheeler, the series also stars Peter Mullan ("Father Carden"); Daniel Sharman ("Weeping Monk"), Lily Newmark ("Pym"), Matt Stokoe ("Gawain") Shalom Brune-Franklin ("Igraine"), Sebastian Armesto ("King Uther Pendragon"), Bella Dayne ("Red Spear"), Emily Coates ("Sister Iris"), Catherine Walker ("Lenore"), and Billy Jenkins ("Squirrel").

See what critics are saying below...

"Langford has a star’s charisma, but has been presented a brief that the show’s writing can’t quite resolve: playing both a fierce leader and a vulnerable young person. It’s not that these traits can’t coexist (to wit, they did in Daenerys, the modern archetype of a certain sort of character), but the feints by Cursed toward present-day patterns of speech and thought make Nimue’s moments of higher dudgeon seem random." -Daniel D’Addario, Variety

"The lapses in focus cause Cursed to waver in pacing as well. Certain episodes rush ahead with big action set-pieces — CG blood flows freely, a reminder of Frank Miller's pedigree — clever one-liners and hints of real emotion and then other episodes feel like they're long stretches of characters leaning against walls waiting for stuff to happen ... I never was able to fully give myself over to Cursed, but I never really got bored and I think there's a better show laying in wait for a second season." -Daniel Fienberg, The Hollywood Reporter

"Cursed may not be the most serious or profound program that TV has to offer, but you won’t find many shows more solidly built or satisfying. It’s wonderful to see a female fantasy hero whose chief character trait isn’t her sex appeal, whose quest is about more than just finding her one true love and, frankly, who isn’t constantly reminding viewers that she is an empowered woman." -Judy Berman, TIME

"At times, it’s great fun. Axes are taken to necks, taverns are brawled in, groping hands are chopped off, iridescent dragonflies alight on every tree stump, CGI wolves endanger our heroine ... Harmlessness, especially in these God- (and Arthur-)forsaken times, amounts almost to a virtue, an art form in itself. And here, for 10 beautifully meaningless hours, it is." -Lucy Mangan, The Guardian

"Nimue dips her foot into being the hero you want her to be with a Wonder Woman pump-you-up moment at the end of the first episode. Yet despite its intriguing spin on a legendary figure, Cursed fails to leave a lasting impact. Overlong and spread thin, it finds its focused pace and otherworldly atmosphere fading as surface-level Game of Thrones politics get in the way. The show is set up for a second season, but the most interesting aspects of its story already seem to be behind it." -Jennifer Bisset, CNET

"The agency given to the women that populate this fantasy world is one of Cursed’s redeeming qualities, which is another prominent mark of Miller’s work. From Sin City to his Marvel creation Elektra, women are positioned as their own heroes and men are relegated to the sidelines. The matriarch is clearly centered and positioned in power in the show. Nimue is meant to propel the story forward, and the other female characters within the show, whether benevolent or malevolent, all stand out against the patriarchy that has long been associated with Arthurian legend." -Kayla Sutton, The A.V. Club

'There is still a lot to be said for how easily digestible Cursed is compared to its natural genre siblings, especially Game of Thrones and The Witcher. If you’re craving something a little less mentally demanding than the Machiavellian politics of the former or the head-spinning time-hopping of the latter, this is a decidedly more low-maintenance affair, doing just enough to play with genre tropes in a subversive way." -Shaun Munro, Flickering Myth


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