It’s hard to talk about the first two episodes of Syfy’s new supernatural western Wynonna Earp without referencing a million other TV shows. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Many of the TV shows I was reminded of while watching Wynonna kick demon ass — from Supernatural to Wonderfalls — are great. However, it’s important to know going into Wynonna Earp that you are not going to find much originality in this plot structure. You will, however, find a lot of fun…
Wynonna Earp, based on a comic book of the same name, tells the story of (you guessed it) Wynonna Earp, the 20-something female descandant of frontiersman and marshall Wyatt Earp. Haunted by a childhood family tragedy, Wynonna has been on the run from her family and home in a town called Purgatory for most of her adult life. When her uncle dies, she returns home to find that she has inherited the familial duty of vanquishing the 77 outlaws Wyatt Earp killed or suffer the cursed consequences.
The show is obviously having fun with its horror/western/science fiction genre mash-up and, even if the tones don’t always mash together so organically, the characters are having so much fun, it’s hard to be too put out by it. Going in, you should know that the pilot isn’t great (as pilots often aren’t). It is exposition-y, awkward, and kind of annoying in its efforts to convince you that Wynonna is a snarky badass who pretends like she doesn’t care about anything or anyone, but secretly has a heart of gold. In this day and age, savvy TV viewers deserve better.
But the series vastly improves in its second episode, throwing the viewers into the heart of the demon-fighting action with half as much of the establishing relationships and backstory stuff. Sure, it’s still there, but there are enough quips and demon fights to make watching worth your while. For all of the ways Wynonna feels like a stock 90s-era strong female heroine in the pilot — all wisecracking and emotionally-unavailable a la Buffy Summers — she is just a heck of a lot of fun to hang out with in the second episode.
Without the weight of having to explain her character and context, her jokes are hilarious (especially her rapport with obligatory federal agent character/love interest Agent Dolls). In reintroducing Wynonna to the demon-hunting game, the show strikes a good balance between competency and still-trying-to-figure-this-stuff-out-ness.
The central relationship in the series so far is the one between Wynonna and her younger sister Waverly, cast here as the quirky-cute innocent who must be protected at all costs. By the second episode, the show hasn’t quite figured out how to make Waverly adorable comic relief without crossing the line into annoyingly chipper, but I have faith. The series is written by Emily Andras, who has previously worked on Lost Girl, another show you will no doubt be reminded of while watching these first few episodes — most especially in the all-important female dynamic at the heart of the show. Wynonna is Bo and Waverly is Kenzie, and their commitment to one another is the most important thing in their lives.
If this set-up reminds you of another demon-fighting shows about siblings, then you’re on the right track. The set-up definitely has a lot in common with Supernatural. There’s the sarcastic, underachieving older sibling; the younger, angelic sibling everyone loves; and the demon-hunting legacy that is in their blood. The Earp sisters even have a special gun — Wyatt Earp’s, of course — to take down the demons (called Revenants, here).
Unlike Supernatural, however, Wynonna Earp relies on a constant setting — a small town called Purgatory, somewhere just over the Canadian border — and this remains the show’s weakest element. The series is enchanted with its rural, frontier-esque setting, but doesn’t do a very good job realising it past relying on some lazy backcountry stereotypes. Most concernedly, the Revenants (aka the bad guys) are realized as the town’s “trailer trash” community. While everyone else seems to have perfect teeth and houses vs. mobile homes, the rural landmarks of poverty are co-opted here to equate with (mostly hapless) villainy, reinforcing some uncomfortable stereotypes.
All in all, however, Wynonna Earp is off to a fun, energetic start. If you’re a fan of Syfy’s slightly-formulaic, action-packed, quippy romps (especially Killjoys, which Andras has also written/produced for), then you’ll probably be a fan of this show. If the quality of the show continues to improve, then Wynonna Earp will be yet another example of Syfy’s recent original drama renaissance.
Wynonna Earp premieres in the UK on Spike UK, Friday the 29th of July at 9pm. The series stars Melanie Scrofano (Gangland Undercover), Tim Rozon (Being Human), Shamier Anderson (Defiance), and Dominique Provost-Chalkley (Avengers: Age of Ultron). It’s also already been renewed for a second series.