Overall, Shantaram feels like a squandered opportunity. Lazy, clichéd writing ruins what is otherwise a well-crafted series. Charlie Hunnam is criminally wasted here too, and even he cannot save the production from monotony.
Our review of the Apple TV Plus series Shantaram season 1 does not contain spoilers.
What sets Apple TV Plus apart from the other streaming platforms is its award-winning, prestigious content. It was the first streaming service to win an Academy Award for Best Picture with CODA, and its other critically-acclaimed shows like Ted Lasso continue to dominate the award ceremonies year in year out. This combination of Hollywood star power and gripping storytelling has been a lucrative venture for the company to date. Although, just like its competitors, not every project can be a masterpiece.
Shantaram follows the usual tick list of requirements for an Apple Original, with a large budget, striking aesthetics, and a big-name actor leading the cast list, yet with all these unbeatable credentials on display, the show still fails to elicit similar success. Even Charlie Hunnam (Sons of Anarchy) can’t save this clichéd drama series from becoming a tedious bore.
The series is an adaptation of Gregory David Roberts’ semi-autobiographical novel of the same name, about an escaped convict who runs away to Bombay to start a new life, with a new identity. Protagonist and fugitive, Lin Ford (Hunnam) is presented as a lovable rogue, that stereotypical criminal with a heart of gold, who may have made a few silly mistakes in the past, but is now on the road to redemption. The filmmakers lay this theme on a little too thick though. Lin is always portrayed as that kind of saint-like criminal, who always puts other people first, and frustratingly, always seems to do the honorable thing at the detriment of his own life. This hero complex wears thin rather fast. OK we get it, he wants to repay his debts to society, he wants to right his wrongs. This heavy-handed approach is completely misjudged and becomes needlessly repetitive.
On his arrival to Bombay, Lin slowly picks up the lingo and starts to adjust to this unique way of life. He befriends tour guide Prabhu and together these scoundrels con the local tourists of their hard earned cash. Lin wants to lose himself in this corrupt city and remain invisible to the authorities, but he still needs to make a living and trouble seems to follow him wherever he goes. It doesn’t take him long to wind up dealing with crooked businessmen, pimps, prostitutes and gang leaders. All the while, hurting those closest to him. Sound familiar? Well yes it has all been done many times before, to a much better degree. The script has no nuance to it, no subtlety. This is a soap opera masquerading as prestige TV.
Lazy flashbacks and an overarching narration only cheapen the series further. Lin constantly explains his thoughts and feelings via ill-conceived voiceovers, ending most episodes by hinting at what is to come next. It’s common knowledge that showing is better than telling when it comes to scriptwriting, but this series seems to distrust its viewers, preferring to simplify everything instead. It’s all just a little dull, with forced, tired romances and a melodramatic subplot involving warring gangs and a fight for land ownership. The characters spew mundane philosophical quotes, quipping about fate and religion like sages. Whilst, bizarrely, slum life is almost glorified in Shantaram as Lin helps out the ever charming Prabhu and his poverty-stricken neighborhood.
It’s not all bad though. Charlie Hunnam (The Gentlemen) brings his Hollywood expertise to the project, coming dangerously close to saving things as he just about shapes Lin Ford into a bearable lead. Hunnam mines a believable and likeable performance out of the fugitive, even though the script seems to be working against him for the most part. He is clearly wasted in this series and deserves much better leading man material. The look and feel of Bombay is also impressively represented, with the filmmakers fully immersing viewers into this chaotic world. The dazzling visuals are accompanied by a beautiful score that perfectly captures the atmosphere of India too.
Overall, Shantaram season 1 feels like a wasted opportunity. Lazy, clichéd writing ruining what is otherwise a well-crafted series. Not every Apple original can be a winner I know, but this drama has just enough going for it to make it a passable addition to their library of content. Which I suppose is the bigger crime, a show that has the potential for greatness, but produces something painfully mediocre instead.
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