Lost Girl debuts tonight on SyFy at 10 p.m. Eastern.
At times, Lost Girl strongly reminds one of the early seasons of Angel, with the production values of the first season of Buffy The Vampire Slayer. There’s some strong storytelling here. There’s an intriguing universe that just keeps expanding. There are some questionable decisions. There are fun characters. And there are makeup designs and visual effects that just look absolutely awful. Every so often, the show will figure out a way around these limitations—as in next week’s second episode, when one of the primary villains is a pretty great duck around the “we have no makeup budget” problem—but for the most part, it looks pretty cheap. It was produced in Canada, after all. (The show debuted there in 2010 and is only just now winding its way to our shores, presumably because SyFy wanted another Canadian-produced show to pair with Being Human.)
If nothing else, though, Lost Girl is a reminder that budgetary issues don’t always matter, even if we might wish every weird little genre show had the budget of a True Blood or Game Of Thrones. Does it occasionally bug that the show’s supernatural spaces seem populated entirely by bored Canadian models? Sure. But that’s not a fatal, show-killing flaw. The temptation with something like this is to write it off because it looks so chintzy, but once you pull back that top layer of weird blandness, there’s a thriving, fun show underneath. What’s more, this is a show that makes some pretty bold storytelling choices and isn’t afraid to have the storyline rocket forward, in a way that’s reminiscent of another genre show, The CW’s Vampire Diaries.
The central figure is a bartender named Bo. Bo’s been on the run for years because of a terrible secret: Every person she kisses winds up dead. There’s something irresistible about her—this is one of the few shows where everybody telling the protagonist how beautiful she is could be seen as a bad thing—but once she gets into the thick of it with any given person, that person winds up a patchy collection of skin blotches with a big, dumb smile on their face. This is all laid out skillfully in the show’s first act, wherein a traveling businessman getting a drink at the bar Bo works at tries to roofie a drink for her, only to have her reject his offer. Instead, he approaches a cute, blonde pickpocket. She downs the drink and takes his wallet, but when she gets on the elevator, he follows, just waiting for her to pass out so he can do what he will with her. Bo arrives on the scene, and we get both a quick display of her powers (if they can be called that) and the blonde girl learning all about how the world is full of dark and terrible things.
From here, Lost Girl does something very smart. Bo is pursued by two detectives who discover the body of the man in the elevator, but very quickly realize that the killer can’t be a normal human but must be something supernatural. Lost Girl presupposes that if there were scary monsters and super creeps wandering around in the world, law enforcement would know at least something about it—or would, indeed, be infiltrated by various beasties itself. The world of Buffy and Angel, where the public at large was mostly unaware of the monsters at the start of either series, doesn’t work as well anymore, because we’ve seen so many shows where that shadow world exists just beneath our own. Instead, we’ve got a world where the shadow world exists, sure, but more people are aware of it than not. (Amusingly, one of the people who’s not in on the existence of the creepiness is Bo, who’s always assumed her “gift” to be some sort of awful curse she’s fated to bear.)
The pell-mell storytelling continues throughout the first two episodes. The pilot is very much a premise pilot—in that we see how everything the show will become gets into place—but the second episode does a handy job of setting up what each episode will be, week to week. The pilot introduces us quickly to all of the characters—indeed, the two most important are there in that very first scene—then just as skillfully pulls back from the sorts of day-to-day concerns Bo occupies herself with to reveal that there’s an ancient, dark supernatural war that she just might be at the center of. Now, the overriding mythology is nothing new. There are “light” and “dark” factions within this war, and if you’ve read any mythology ever, Bo’s true species will become pretty clear just from the description above. But the show’s willingness to play for keeps and have Bo kill adversaries to survive gives it a nice, darkly pulpy edge. There are monstrous fight clubs and bars where the supernatural beings can go about as they wish and a hunky guy who just might not die when Bo kisses him. There’s nothing unfamiliar here, but there’s a skill to how the familiar elements are deployed.
By far the best thing here is Anna Silk as Bo. Silk has bopped around Canadian TV for a while, judging from her IMDB page, but she feels fresh here. She’s the very best kind of discovery as Bo, able to play both laughs and big dramatic moments for all their worth. The moment when she realizes the guy she’s kissing somehow isn’t dying is good fun, and the way she improvises a path through fights also works very well. Silk may not do all of her own stunts, but she believably carries herself as someone who can enter a fight with a giant-tongued monster and hold her own.
Ksenia Solo as Bo’s sidekick Kenzi is also lots of fun. She’s mostly there to toss in gags and one-liners, but Solo proves highly adept at doing so, and she functions nicely as a kind of conscience for Bo, who could very easily end up hurting many, many people. Less exciting is Kristen Holden-Ried, who’s good in the scenes where he’s trying to track down the beast that could have left that grimly smiling man on the elevator and good in the scenes with his detective partner but less convincing as a brooding, glowery antihero for Bo to fall for. The show’s so good at sketching in all of the other expected elements that the “guy our heroine shouldn’t fall for even though she inevitably will” element feels just a bit too pat.
Never mind that, though. Lost Girl is good, goofy fun for those who enjoy watching supernatural beings navigate the complicated politics of a shadow world or who enjoy them tracking down other monsters to solve mysteries. (It’s not too much of a spoiler to say that Kenzi convinces Bo that she should set up a supernatural detective agency, of sorts, one that results in a very entertaining “case of the week” in episode two.) If you’re looking for wild originality in your genre TV, Lost Girl isn’t the place you’ll want to turn. But if you’re just looking for fun characters exploring a fun—if somewhat derivative—world, then there aren’t many better options on the air right now.