Sanctuary started out as a web-based series of short episodes featuring some great talent that proved to be so popular Syfy picked it up as a regular series. Syfy thinks that could happen again – taking the independently produced steampunk web series Riese: Kingdom Falling, with 5 never-before-seen episodes comprising a second chapter and featuring it on their web site.
New episodes of Riese: Kingdom Falling appear on Tuesdays and Thursdays generally before noon ET, with 4 new episodes remaining. Each episode is less than 10 minutes, so you can get caught up pretty fast.
Narrated by Amanda Tapping (Sanctuary, Stargate SG-1), Riese takes place in the decaying kingdom of Eleysia, where resources have dwindled and hopes have faded, and follows the travels of title character (played by Christine Chatelain, Final Destination, Sanctuary), a princess who escaped the coup of the Eleysia where the rest of her family was killed, but she remembers little about it and is trying to discover her past. The Sect, a mysterious religious order which carried out the coup have installed themselves as the official (and only) religion, and installed the brutal Amara (Sharon Taylor, Smallville), cousin of the former empress Kara (Riese’s mother) as empress. But the Sect have their own agenda – and possibly have the real power over the kingdom as well. Anyone in any way against the Sect or Amara is branded a heretic and subject to immediate arrest.
Adding to the cast are Ben Cotton (Harper’s Island) as Herrick, a masked Senior Magister of the Sect; Allison Mack (Smallville), a member of the Sect; Ryan Robbins (Sanctuary, Caprica), as Rand, one of the freedom fighters of the Resistance; Patrick Gilmore (Stargate Universe) as Trennan, a mysterious and relatively quiet aide to Amara; Alessandro Juliani (Battlestar Galactica) as Garin, the tactician of the Resistance; and Emilie Ullerup (Sanctuary) as Aliza, member of the Resistance and companion of Rand.
Riese was created and directed by Ryan Copple (who has produced many short subjects) and Kaleena Kiff – Grups may recognize that name as the actress that played Patti, the little girl in Love, Sidney in the early 80s and Kelly in The New Leave It To Beaver in the mid-late 80s. She has also recently been producing shorts.
Riese is one of the first “steampunk” live action series, and is set in an alternate world where the various locations have names of obvious Nordic influence. For those not familiar with steampunk, at first look you might think it would be set in a more medieval period, but the setting is far more contemporary – the architecture reminds me of mid-20th century buildings, and I understand they did in fact use at least one abandoned building for filming, befitting of the decaying nature of the kingdom with a lack of resources. So it is set more like a modern world where steam power is used – as if combustion engines never worked, or at least fossil fuels were rare (which is the basis of the steampunk genre).
I like the production quality overall. This isn’t a backyard home production. The RED One camera does a great job, and the location shooting gives it more authenticity. I really want to see this on my big TV, but I don’t have the hookups for that currently, so I’m resigned to watching it on my computer monitor – and at times the video can be a bit too dim for that.
The acting has been great, although because of the short nature of the episodes there isn’t much screen time for several of the characters. Ryan Robbins as the overly-wound-up hero, who may be fighting for his own reasons, does a great job (although I miss his humorous quips from Sanctuary), but we haven’t seen a lot of the Resistance overall so far. And Chatelain doesn’t get a lot of dialog (her companion is a wolf – but she does speak to it), so her acting is more action and expression, which she does well at.
I really wish the episodes were longer though. It’s kind of like watching a two hour movie with commercial breaks – where the breaks are 2-5 days long!
We are witnessing a change in mainstream media. Where first run original programming was once the province of broadcast networks and cable relegated to repeats and syndication, we’ve already seen where the cable networks have been producing their own original programming on an increasingly successful basis. Now with the ubiquitous Internet in almost everyone’s home, on their computers, TVs and even phones, a new delivery mechanism exists – one that anyone can use to broadcast content (good AND bad). We will likely see an increase in its usage both for direct original content (like the hugely popular The Guild) as well as a new concept of the “backdoor pilot”. And Syfy seems to be paying very close attention…
If Syfy sees enough people watching Riese online, we should at least get more of it – and if the numbers are really good…we could have a new series to watch on TV. And I think Riese is worthy of of that.