TV Review: The Librarians


[Spoiler Alert: This review contains a few spoilers, though I have tried to keep them to a minimum while still making this a viable review.]

When the first made-for-TV Librarian movie appeared in 2004 (The Librarian: Quest for the Spear), I watched it simply because it sounded so silly (and I also have a fondness for magic and fantasy). The premise is a normal metropolitan library under which is hidden a magical library containing not only rare (or mythical) books and manuscripts, but historical/magical (and religious) artifacts: the Ark of the Covenant, Excalibur, Pandora's Box, even Noah's Ark. This library -- which exists to protects these items, as well as protecting the general public from the wrong use of magic -- is overseen by Judson (Bob Newhart) and his assistant, Charlene (Jane Curtin). They hire a librarian whose job it is to go around the world either finding magical artifacts, or preventing those artifacts from falling into the wrong hands. The librarian is chosen for a combination of the breadth of his knowledge and intelligence, and his ability to think himself out of various predicaments (since he does not carry any weapons). In the first film, Noah Wyle becomes the new librarian, whose task it is to recover part of the Spear of Destiny (the spear used by the centurion to pierce Jesus’ side), which has been stolen.

Part Indiana Jones, part Men in Black, part the Mummy film series, I fully expected to find the film…well… not just silly, but bad. To my surprise, it was unexpectedly well-written, well-made, and well-acted. Noah Wyle has a comic charm not unlike that of Martin Short. Jane Curtin plays her distracted self wonderfully. And Bob Newhart’s deadpan delivery is as brilliant as ever. (The supporting cast – Nicole Noone, Kyle MacLachlan, David Dayan Fisher, Olympia Dukakis -- is also quite good.)

When the following two films (The Librarian: Return to King Solomon's Mines (2006) and The Librarian: Curse of the Judas Chalice (2008)) both ended up being as good as or better than the first film, and it was announced that a TV series would be created based on the "Librarian" premise, I found myself quite excited -- but also a tad nervous, as I was concerned that it would not "transfer" well. I need not have been concerned.

Putting together groups of misfits to do good is a staple of both films and television. Currently on TV, there is the series Scorpion, which has garnered a very positive response. One of my recent favorites was Leverage, in which a former insurance man becomes a Robin Hood-like mastermind, putting together a group of criminals (grifter, hacker, thief, "hitter") to "right the wrongs" done to people.

The "hitter" on Leverage was played by Christian Kane, who appears in the new Librarians series as a master art historian. He is joined by a thief and technology expert (John Kim), a young woman whose cancerous frontal lobe tumor makes her a synesthete with a gift for mathematics and high-level equations (Lindy Booth), and a counter-terrorism agent who is brought on board to protect them all (Rebecca Romijn). They are tasked with finding King Arthur's crown, which is being sought by the evil Serpent Brotherhood. Whoever wields the crown can release "raw magic" into the world and, if they also possess Excalibur, they can control that magic -- for good or evil. And since Excalibur is held by the Library, well… I leave to your imagination what the evil Serpent Brotherhood has in mind.

The first two-hour double-episode is as well-written, well-made, and well-acted as the three films. Curtin is back (at least temporarily), as is Newhart (literally "in spirit" rather than physically). Also aboard are John Larroquette as the keeper of the Library Annex, Matt Frewer as the villain, and Lesley-Anne Brandt as his henchman (henchwoman/henchperson?).

The series does not spare the cheese, but rather plays to it: it keeps its tongue firmly in its cheek, and does not pretend to be anything other than silly but fun entertainment. Which there really isn’t a lot of on TV any more.

It remains to be seen how the series will progress, particularly since (as the end of the episode suggests) Wyle is likely to be absent for various periods, and Curtin and Newhart will probably only return occasionally. Still, the new cast -- if supported by good writing and good production -- looks like it just might keep things fun and interesting. I, for one, hope they can. After all, it would be quite… magical if they did.