The Dresden Files

In horse-breeding parlance, Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden comes to us by Jim Rockford out of Buffy Summers. Sadly, the first two episodes of The Dresden Files, were mediocre at best, but showed enough potential in concepts and characters to suggest that despite his slow start, Harry Dresden could be something of a stayer. As opposed to a slayer. Ripped somewhat jaggedly from the pages of Jim Butcher’s extravagantly imaginative book series of the same name, the show is as endearingly frill-free and FX-lite as the early Buffy. Presumably, neither executive producer Nicolas Cage nor Lionsgate Films got rich by throwing excessive budgets at a low rent channel like SciFi.

According to Butcher (and he should know), Dresden was named after a plethora of famous magicians including Harry Blackstone, (presumably) David Copperfield, and maybe even Harry Houdini. There’s no suggestion, however, that Dresden was named with a certain Master Potter in mind. Nonetheless, just like The Lad Himself, Dresden’s parents are dead and he has issues with the Dark Side, and vice versa. So picture British actor Paul Blackthorne (best known in the U.S. as Stephen Saunders in Day Three of 24) with a broken razor and an almost convincing American accent, playing an alternative Harry Potter, all grown up, cynical as hell, but cursed with a heart of gold in a Chicago that just about believes in magic, and there you have SciFi’s Dresden, Wizard For Hire.

Where Jim Rockford had Dennis Becker, his friend in the LAPD, Harry Dresden has Connie Murphy (Valerie Cruz), a lieutenant in the Chicago PD. And where Rockford had his dad, Rocky, Dresden has Bob (Terrence Mann). The only difference is that Bob is the ghost of a medieval black wizard (who lives in a rune-etched skull) and Murphy is more likely to find herself possessed by a Fallen-type villain than running number plates for Dresden.

One of the problems with The Dresden Files is that there’s a whole heap of backstory and precious little time to expose it. So viewers who were not readers need to take elements like the “High Council” and Bob (a spooky revision of the hologram Doctor in Star Trek) on trust and hope the details will be revealed in future episodes. The secrets of Dresden’s past, you feel, are destined to provide the over-arching storyline the series needs. In the opening episode, “Birds of a Feather”, for example, the plight of Scott Sharpe (Dylan Everett), a young boy with latent mad magical skillz, was used to reveal that the young Harry himself was once targeted by a Wicked Uncle, whom he later “self-defensed to death”. I’d expect to see Scott’s unfinished story develop in parallel with Dresden’s own.

After two episodes, it would be easy to get all snarky about The Dresden Files and focus on its weaknesses: the pitifully poor denouement to “Birds of a Feather”, or more generally, dialogue in dire need. But the show has its strengths too. The Rockford/Buffy crossover offers endless opportunities for playing with conventions old and new. There has never been a better time to make shows about magic. And at least one of the writers has a fine sense of Yuma: consider, for example, the banana split joke (you had to be there) or the homage to the diner scene in When Harry Met Sally… I’ll have whatever Meg’s having.

Unfortunately, Harry Dresden is no cheerleader, and so The Dresden Files has less inherent eye candy appeal than Buffy. Similarly, it has less boobage than Charmed. But then looking on the bright side, it also has far less wood than Angel.

RATING 6 / 10