Can ABC blend high fantasy drama with reality television? With The Quest, they're giving it their best try.
I wondered how ABC was going to pull off the concept: an immersive reality game show with an actual story line. How seamless could it be? Would the contestants get it? Are they even called contestants? I'll admit, beyond just wondering, I was downright skeptical. But then, on Wednesday afternoon, Whoopi Goldberg gave the show a seemingly genuine stamp of approval on her Facebook page and on The View, which gave me hope. Well, now that I've seen the premiere episode, I can happily say that The Quest is freakin' awesome. Check out episodes of The Quest every Thursday night at 8/7c on ABC or on Hulu.
In last night's premiere episode, we meet the twelve paladins who are sent to Everealm to compete in twelve challenges and ultimately defeat Verlox, the evil lord threatening the twelve kingdoms of Everealm. We meet Crio, liaison to the paladins, as well as the Three Fates, who summon and banish the paladins. In typical reality show style, last night the paladins competed in their first challenge -- and of course, one was banished.
The production value is extraordinary. Every detail is finessed into fantastical strokes of verisimilitude. From the forest, to the clothing, to the smudged faces of the extras, it truly looks like these twelve human beings have stepped back in time to a magical world. Castle Saenctum looks like it could be in Eastern Europe somewhere, while the paladins' chambers, which I'm guessing are a set, look one hundred percent authentic. As a viewer, I can be just as immersed as the contests -- plus it shows how much the producers cared about making this more Lord of the Rings than Survivor.
The only complicated part of the show, and this would be true of any show with as many imaginative undertakings as The Quest, is setting the scene. The paladins leave New York, walk through a series of catacombs, take a boat down an underground river, and trek through Marwood, the dark forest, all within ten minutes. Getting to Everealm appears pretty difficult, but none of that drama was shown in the premiere episode. After their journey, the paladins even emerged with clay-caked hair and different clothing. When did that happen?
One avoided pitfall was the use of fake names. In these kinds of narratives, one must be very careful with how many invented names one brings to the table. It's difficult to sustain such nomenclature before things start to sound ridiculous. In The Quest's premiere episode, we get a lot of made-up names fast: "Everealm", "Crio", and "Saenctum", and "Sunspear", "Marwood", and "Verlox" among them. They're not the greatest made-up names, to be sure. "Verlox" sounds like a vacuum cleaner company, while "Marwood" is obviously an ambiguation of "Mirkwood" from Middle-earth. It should be noted that producer Mark Ordesky was an executive producer on The Lord of the Rings, and some elements of the show certainly have a derivative feel.
Though I like "Everealm" because it sort of sounds like one of the "lands" at Disneyland -- and further to that point, when the paladins take their fateful boat ride at the top of the show, it looks like they're entering an amusement park ride, which would be pretty awesome. To live in an interactive Disneyland ride? Yes, please! But, then again, I'm a nerd.