The Dresden Files
SCI FI Channel
Directors: Michael Robison, Jim Contner
Writers: Peter Egan, George Mastras
Cast: Paul Blackthorne, Valerie Cruz, Terrence Mann, Conrad Coates, Raoul Bhaneja
Air Date: Series premiere January 21 at 9:00 PM on SCI FI Channel
Rated TV14-L-V / 60 minutes / 2007
(out of four)
"Birds of a Feather"
Director: Michael Robison
Writer: Peter Egan
Guest Starring: Dylan Everett, Deborah Odell
Airdate: January 21 at 9:00 PM on SCI FI Channel
The Dresden Files, based on the bestselling novels by Jim Butcher, seemed like a good
property to adapt to television. It's contemporary urban fantasy, with a noir edge, and its
setup leaves it open to multi-episode arcs or monster-of-the-week romps. But The Dresden
Files doesn't quite capture the spirit of what makes Jim Butcher's novels so fun, and it
doesn't hold a candle to the television series that everyone will most likely compare it to:
Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
Things immediately get off to a bad start in the opening moments of the pilot, "Birds
of a Feather." It begins with some awkward back-story, showing how Harry Dresden
(Blackthorne), as a youth, scared of the monsters in his closet, is given a "shield bracelet"
that belonged to Harry's mother, who was mysteriously killed. And young Harry, who was so
frightened of the dark just moments earlier, tells his father, he's going to find whatever it is
that killed his mother and "rip it's heart out." Oh, and it's a dream! A flashback dream,
before we even get to meet the character. The dream turns out to be a minor plot point, but
still, it's an off-putting way to get the show rolling.
Once Harry wakes up, he learn that he's a private eye who specializes in cases that deal
with the paranormal. Or, more to the point, he's a wizard; it even says so in his ad in the
Harry's (unwilling) partner in his supernatural investigations is a ghost named Bob
(Mann), the former servant of Harry's uncle, Justin Morningway, who was "self-defensed to
death" by Harry. Bob, once a wizard of some renown, now seems to be bound to serve Harry
in some capacity. He doesn't seem to like it, but is amiable enough in his servitude.
The plot gets going when Harry runs outside to move his car to avoid a parking ticket (which
he does not), when a young boy, Scott Sharp (Everett), approaches Harry, phonebook ad in
hand, asking him if he's Harry Dresden, the wizard. "I've got monsters," he says.
Harry's skeptical, but the kid offers him $5000 to take the case, and he's got the cash in
hand to prove he's serious. Harry hears the kid out, but dismisses Scott as an "imaginative
kid," and refuses to take the case and his money, which turns out to be his college savings.
But Bob later convinces Harry to take Scott's concerns seriously, but to do so free of charge,
to assuage any guilt Harry has about taking a poor kid's money for what is probably nothing
more than an overactive imagination. So Harry decides to take the case and starts by going
to talk to Scott's mother.
Cut to Lt. Murphy (Cruz), who is investigating a murder scene, where the victim
appears to have been skinned alive; where, when, or how is a total mystery-there's no
blood, no sign of forced entry. Murphy later turns to Harry for his expertise in the
paranormal, and brings him on board the case. Which leads Harry to discover that he saw
the flayed victimaliveas he was leaving Scott's house: It's Whitney Timmons (Odell),
After realizing this, Harry knows exactly what's going on: A monster that kills and then
walks around in the victim's skin can only be one thing-a skinwalker.
Being a supernatural investigator, you'd think that Harry would have taken Scott more
seriously, especially considering the recurrent dreams he's been having about his own
childhood, which have been visiting Harry so frequently lately that Bob insists they are not
ordinary dreams, but portents.
There are other problems with the plot, especially the way the primary conflict is resolved,
but there's little reason to belabor the point; this is very much what you might expect of an
original creation of Hollywood, not something based on a well-developed, entertaining series
of booksmaking it serve as yet another example of how film and television
adaptations of books can go terribly, terribly wrong.
I could go on, but before I go into detail about the series' overall shortcomings, let's take a
look at the second episode.
"The Boone Identity"
Director: Jim Contner
Writer: George Mastras
Guest Starring: C. David Johnson, Kaleigh Nevin, Tom Barnett, Kevin Rushton
Airdate: January 28 at 9:00 PM on SCI FI Channel
In this episode, Harry is hired by Charles Harding (Johnson), an antiques dealer, to help him
deal with the loss of his daughter, Lisa (Nevin), who had been murdered during a robbery
and now seems to be haunting her father's shop. After a conversation with Harding (and a
brief visitation by Lisa), Harry learns that the thief managed to get away with only one
thing: an Egyptian artifact known as the lock of Anubis. But the burglar didn't really get
away with anything; he not only dropped the stone tablet (shattering it), but he also
managed to get himself killed during an attempted carjacking...or so the police report says.
The police had closed the case, but Harry digs a little deeper. After getting access to
the file from Murphy, Harry decides to ask the intended victim of the carjacking some
questions. Turns out that this is Edward Miller (Barnett), a Chicago billionaire...who just
happens to have an intense interest in Egyptian artifacts. So Harry persuades Miller to
answer some questions, in order to help Harding get some closure. But then he aggressively
questions Miller, and persuades him to show him how he managed to get the shotgun away
from the thiefwho we learn is a man named Boone (Rushton)and kill him with his own
weapon. Miller's explanation is not convincing, and Harry soon wears out his welcome. Miller
informs Harry of an appointment he has, then leaves Harry to find his own way out of the
house (and thus free to wander around, snooping). Before leaving, Harry finds a masseuse
preparing Miller for a massage, which allows Harry to see the Egyptian tattoo on the back of
This episode has a lot of problems, but let's address a few of these that have come up so
far. Okay, first of all, you don't have to be a wizard to see that the Miller-Boone encounter
doesn't seem like a coincidence, though apparently in the world of The Dresden Files, you do
need to be a wizard, since the police didn't seem to think that lead was worth investigating.
And secondly, what billionaireespecially one that has something to hidewould invite some
shabby-looking private investigator into his home, allow him to question him as if he were a
suspect, and then leave him to find his own way out of the house?
There's more to the mystery behind the burglary, some of which is actually kind of
cool, but the inept plotting continues to ruin everything. I mean, a crucial plot point hinges
on the fact that Murphy cuts her finger on Harry's doorknob as she's walking out of his
office. A doorknob? Who cuts themselves on a doorknob?
It's probably evident by now that one of the primary weaknesses of this show is its writing.
I'd say the acting is equally bad, but considering the dialogue the actors had to work with,
they did what they could; sadly, what they did was not nearly enough. Blackthorne is not up
to the task of carrying this series, and an adept portrayal of Harry Dresden is really essential
for the series; this is not an ensemble dramait's the Harry Dresden show, and with a
weak Harry Dresden, the overall result is weak. And the supporting cast doesn't help at all;
if Blackthorne is bad, the rest of them are execrable. The banteriffic relationship Dresden
and Murphy are supposed to have doesn't work at all, mainly because Blackthorne and Cruz
have no chemistry. It's odd to see a series in which the minor league guest stars display
better acting than the series regulars.
Just about the only thing this show has going for it is that it's got a cool premise. It's
possible that they'll be able to turn this thing into something watchable, but unless they
overhaul the writing staff and get some directors who can make those actors act, there'll be
no saving this sinking ship.
In one of the episodes, a voice-over from Blackthorne informs us: "Wizard...it comes from
the root word 'viz' to see." Well, I'm no wizard, but I can see The Dresden Files' future,
and what I see is...cancellation.