I’m a bit of a fan of the hardboiled, wizard-detective novels of Jim Butcher in his Dresden Files novels. He writes them fast, they’re short and fun, and the protagonist is a believable, supernatural detective. It’s a great idea that makes for compelling little mysteries, good for reading in a long, relaxed weekend.
So, when I heard they were bringing Butcher’s books to the small screen on the Sci-Fi channel, I was a bit excited as well as apprehensive. It’s a great idea. A perfect chance to mix CSI with Harry Potter and see what happens. You get the smarmy detective, a tough as nails female detective with her job on the line, and a whole host of creatures from the beyond constantly trying to tear apart and rework the underpinnings of Chicago (and the mundane world at large). But would they ruin the books by trying too hard to emulate the formula, or stray too far from what makes Harry Dresden such a likable detective-wizard.
I’m happy to say the result is pretty damn good. The pilot episode of The Dresden Files aired last night on Sci-Fi and the end product is about as much as I could hope for. As with any novel turned into television, liberties were taken with plotlines and developing characters, for the sake of serialization and syndication. You can’t have a full linear plot in a television show based on 8 novels with self-contained (though overlapping) plotlines. But the basics are intact. Harry Dresden is there in all his gruff, smart ass glory (though a bit younger than I’d pictured) with little to no money, trouble with just about anything mechanical, and the uncanny ability to get thrown into interrealm wars between men, wizards, and everything in between.
The first episode tells the story of a young boy who believes he’s being stalked by monsters. He offers Harry $5000 dollars to help him, and Harry quickly brushes him off, in part because of his own parallel childhood memories of similar treatment. This is a flashback episode already, and pulls in a lot of characters from different times and involvement in Harry’s life that those unfamiliar with the novels wouldn’t necessarily know. It’s problematic in a small way, if only because it doesn’t feel like the first episode but a mid season episode.
But the pieces are all there, from probably future proteges to long time (and familial) nemeses, to dark pasts with undisclosed secrets, and love interests with multiple routes to implosion. I have to say, I’m very impressed and can’t wait for the next episode. It was fun, it was compelling, and the detective meets wizard aspect worked perfectly. Part of the time it felt like CSI, part of the time like Buffy, and if there’s anything that could work on TV, I think it’s that. And I’ve gotta say, if Sci-Fi keeps pumping out these kind of fun, engaging shows along with Battlestar Galactica and some of the other shows on the horizon (Painkiller Jane, and Flash Gordon) they’re going to finally pull themselves out of that funk they’ve been wallowing in since they canceled MST3K.