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Django is an Italian-French production, presented in English, that debuted around Europe earlier this year. Netflix picked up the show for viewing in the U.S., and it seems to be right in their wheelhouse: A Wild West tale with a character that has been around for almost 60 years.
DJANGO: STREAM IT OR SKIP IT?
Opening Shot: A child’s eyes seen through slats of a barn. She’s watching everyone outside running and screaming as guns go off.
The Gist: In Texas in 1872, a small town called New Babylon was founded by former slave John Ellis (Nicholas Pinnock) and his fiancée, an orphan named Sarah (Lisa Vicari). In that town, there is equality and freedom, and its been a haven for former slaves that continued to be persecuted in the Deep South.
Ellis routinely puts up a fighter from Austria against all comers; the wagers he wins helps keep his family — Sarah, as well as his four adult boys Seymour (Jyuddah Jaymes), Kevin (Benny O. Arthur), Phillip (Eric Kole) and Andrew (Elliot Edusah) — and the town afloat. But a mysterious stranger who calls himself Django (Matthias Schoenaerts), steps up to challenge the Austrian and soundly beats him. Because it cost John almost everything he has, he tells Django to be out of town by dawn if he wants to stay alive.
We find out that Django is in town to find the owner of a tobacco case he bought off a junk vendor about 500 miles north of town. The case and the name inside of it reminds him of someone dear to him who went missing, which is why he’s been looking for the owner.
When Django tries to find some clues at John’s house, John finds him and commands his sons to help string the man up. But, in a downpour, Sarah recognizes the man, which brings back memories of her as a child, hunting with her father. Using the marksmanship he taught her, she shoots the rope off the gallows and tells John that she will not marry him during the next day’s planned ceremony if he kills this man.
In the meantime, in the town of Elmdale City, a day’s ride south of New Babylon, a woman named Elizabeth (Noomi Rapace) dons all black and goes with her crew to a brothel. She and her men lay waste to the place, stabbing and shooting random people and setting the entire place on fire.
What Shows Will It Remind You Of? The character of Django has been around since the 1966 film Django, a spaghetti western directed by Sergio Corbucci. While the character did inspire Quentin Tarantino’s 2012 film Django Unchained, the series, created by Leonardo Fasoli and Maddalena Ravagli, hews closer to that original film.
Our Take: The first episode of Django gave us an overwhelming sense that the show was, as the old phrase goes, “neither here nor there.” What do we mean by that? Well, the episode wasn’t boring, but it wasn’t particularly interesting, either. We learned some things about the main characters, but not enough to get us invested in the story. The acting and writing were decent in some places, but not in others. And the Romanian scenery that substituted for Texas was nice enough, but most of the episode seemed to be shot in the dark.
Even though things progress pretty slowly in the first episode, there isn’t a whole lot of mystery about the show’s premise and plot. Sarah’s Django’s long-lost daughter, who survived her entire family’s violent demise years ago. Their reunion might proceed in fits and starts, because Django likely can’t be 100% sure that Sarah is his daughter, at least not at first. But make no mistake: She’s his daughter, and it feels like the sooner we get to everyone recognizing it the better.
There are other parts of this story that will also need a bit more exploration, like Seymour’s attacks on Sarah where he vows that she will never replace his mother, but we’re not sure how much of that we’ll see.
At a certain point, Django and John are also going to team up to keep New Babylon alive in the face of Elizabeth’s moral onslaught. The first episode shows what she’s capable of, but doesn’t really establish who she is beyond that. If she’s going to become the “big bad” of the series, we’ll have to see her threaten New Babylon directly in order to amp up the stakes.
Sex and Skin: There’s some nudity at the brothel, and we see Sarah nude before she slips into her wedding dress.
Parting Shot: After Sarah runs out on her wedding, Django sees her ride away from his jail cell. Meanwhile, Elizabeth prays.
Sleeper Star: Jyuddah Jaymes is properly menacing as Seymour, who can’t seem to control his emotions around the prospect of his father getting married again, and Sarah joining the family.
Most Pilot-y Line: Like we said, even the few daytime, outdoor scenes in the first episode were shot so dimly it was hard to discern the action at times.
Our Call: STREAM IT. Django will make for a good distraction if you’re into classic Westerns, but if you’re looking for complex morality plays, you’re probably out of luck.
Joel Keller (@joelkeller) writes about food, entertainment, parenting and tech, but he doesn’t kid himself: he’s a TV junkie. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, Slate, Salon, RollingStone.com, VanityFair.com, Fast Company and elsewhere.