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‘The Librarians’ Is Packed With Allusions and Wily Behavior

The Librarians combines Willy Wonka with Indiana Jones to create the next Scooby Gang in search of magic, artifacts, and its own places in the universe.

Just as Doctor Who declared fezzes and bowties cool, I declare librarians cool. Though I know quite a few cool librarians, I haven’t met quite as cool as Flynn Carsen (Noah Wyle). He’s the keeper of the vast, inter-dimensional repository of knowledge and magic at the center of TNT’s new show, The Librarians.

These are the basics: the world was once filled with magic along Ley lines. Over the millennia, magic has been drained from the world and invested in objects, like King Arthur’s sword Excalibur and the Spear of Destiny. One person, the Librarian, is chosen to retrieve these objects in order to protect current humans who are unaware of the artifacts’ powers. The Library also invites potential future Librarians to apprentice so that when Carsen dies an untimely death, as his fellows tend to do, someone is available to take his place.

If you didn’t know about the Librarian series of made-for-TV movies dating back to 2004’s The Librarian: Quest for the Spear, you might think that this new show is borrowing from SyFy’s Warehouse 13, and maybe Buffy the Vampire Slayer — not to mention National Treasure and Indiana Jones. Along with the chosen one and magical objects collected in a storage facility, this show also begins as the world is about to end.

The Librarians‘ universe predates Warehouse 13, but its premise recalls Buffy’s singular ability to stave off an apocalypse. If this was Buffy the Vampire Slayer, it would be season seven, and the subsequent seasons eight, nine, and ten that exist as Dark Horse Comics, because in the television series, we see the Librarian reaching out to “potentials”, called Librarians-in-Training, who arrive to work with Carsen, much as Buffy gathered slayer potentials in Sunnydale during her show’s final season.

Before the recruits arrive, Colonel Eve Baird (Rebecca Romijn) signs up as the Librarian’s protector. Think of her as Carsen’s Angel, with the double meaning implied. The Librarians-in-Training all have backgrounds that will serve them well in their quest to manage magic. Cassandra (Lindy Booth), is a synesthete, with all five senses playing off of each other, complete with hallucinations viewers occasionally glimpse as she attempts to retrieve memories. Jake Stone (Christian Kane), has an IQ of 190 and extensive knowledge of art history, as well as oil-rigging and honkey-tonk bars. Thief Ezekiel Jones (John Kim) is a geek bent on stealing objects that are difficult to attain while playing an “international man of mystery”.

This supporting cast is coached by Jenkins (John Larroquette), a long-serving assistant Librarian and crotchety caretaker of the Library’s branch office. Although Jenkins knows his stuff, he plays mentor reluctantly, repeatedly seeking to return to his research rather than babysit the Librarians-in-Training. Predictably, his reluctance is put on hold when the villain arrives in the guise of the Serpent Brotherhood, a cult led by Dulaque (Matt Frewer). They want to bring magic back, and probably not for beneficent purposes.

Holding history together are former librarian, Judson (played by Bob Newhart) who acts as a mentor to Carsen. He now lives as a reflection of his former self inside a mirror. Charlene (played by Jane Curtin), another member of Library management, remains in the corporeal. She plays the role human resources, but probably has a much deeper purpose.

Given all of the derivative elements, you might be inclined to give The Librarians as pass, but it’s a show worth considering. The story is fun, occasionally touching, and full of energy. Wyle’s harm and exuberance here make Carsen the opposite of his often dour Tom Mason on Falling Skies. Wyle is older now than he was in the original Librarian movies, and a much better actor. He swaps out his earlier disingenuous wonder for a more convincing confidence. Other performers are also better than you might expect. Romijn grants Baird some kick-ass protecting and investigating skills still intact from her short-lived stint as Michelle Maxwell on King & Maxwell. Larroquette plays well with others by not playing well with them.

With an order for a mere ten episodes from TNT, The Librarians‘ new world already feels more immersive than those in the earlier movies due to increases in budget and improved rendering technology (though anyone who has visited the Tower of London will know the scene set there wasn’t filmed anywhere near it, or even on a set that approximates its moving sidewalk approach to jewel viewing). As much as the show offers references to Latin, poetry, and ancient texts, it isn’t one we need to overthink. The magic is shallow and literary allusions are invented as often as not. But let go and you may find yourself enjoying the rollicking adventure and characters’ camaraderie. If you miss Warehouse 13, or liked Friday the 13th: The Series, or Tia Carrere in The Relic Hunter, then The Librarians is worth a visit.

RATING 7 / 10
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