"The New Legends of Monkey" is a newly released show with a take on the traditional Chinese story surrounding the main character, Monkey. However, there is a lot wrong with this new Netflix show, including whitewashing and destroying the rich history of the original Chinese tale.
However, that has already been said. In fact, there is an article online right now that argues on both sides of the whitewashing conversation, which is worth reading. But I am not going to talk about that, because smarter people than me have already spoken about it. I am going to talk about why this show is a missed opportunity that could have made Netflix a new blockbuster series.
Now, is it as good as "Stranger Things", Netflix's greatest creation and probably one of the best shows ever made? No. If they changed a few things, could it reach a "Stranger Things" level of greatness? Maybe. It could get close.
I am going to say this before I start talking about this new show: I love watching kid-friendly movies and shows. I have watched every single "Barbie" movie ever made, in some cases more than once, and I have watched every single "Monster High" movie - except the one with the weird art style. So, when I critique this show, allow me to remind you that I have a strong knowledge base of children's shows; I have watched "Octonauts", and if you know me, you probably know why. By the way, there are only like two octopuses in the show, which is kind of disappointing.
The biggest problem with this show is that the writers are cowards.
Before I get into that, let me tell you what I do like about the show. The main character, Tripitaka (which isn't her name but rather a title she takes), never reveals her real name in the show. In fact, there are a lot of clever situations like this one. Due to sexism and danger in the plot, Tripitaka needs to hide that fact that she is a woman, so she disguises herself as a monk, which is a part of the prophecy surrounding Monkey the god. This creates a lot of tension in the show as we the audience have to watch and hope Tripitaka doesn't get caught as a woman. The characters are all fascinating, except one character, Sandy, who I felt could have disappeared and almost nothing would have changed. She has some interesting backstory we learn later on in the show, but overall she is just underdeveloped.
The world building is also fantastic. We know what happened and how our characters got to where they are now. Each character has his or her own elaborate backstory which sometimes determines how they react to things in the storyline. The world is well established; where they have to go and where they came from makes sense and is easy to follow. The laws and what the gods can and can't do is well thought out. Yet, what is so special about the gods if they can be knocked out with the same gas that knocks out humans? Why do the demons hide their faces if they are the ones ruling the world?
Here's the biggest problem with the show - aside from the whitewashing - there is no emotional weight to anything that is happening on screen. Minor spoilers: There is a scene where the gods are tortured for information (if you consider being part of a shitty game show with no stakes and all the food you can eat as torture), but nothing happens. Tripitaka saves all the gods, and we learn the real story about what Monkey did to get trapped in the rock for 500 years. Instead of having something dark or scary happen to make us worry about the characters, there's nothing happening. Nothing matters.
I wish I could use excuse that it's a kids show to blame for why there is no weight to the show. But I watch kids shows religiously, and they usually don't shy away from emotional moments - even really dark ones.
Take Mufasa's death in "The Lion King" as an example. That scene is harrowing. Simba is a child who just witnessed his father's death, a reaction which we get to experience up close and personal. Most of Disney's movies - with the exception of Disney's "Frozen", when Anna confronts Elsa about her magic - don't shy away from emotional moments. In fact, watch a Disney kids movie, like "Snow White", and focus on the imagery and the terrified expression of Snow White as she runs through the forest. Its dark, it's scary, and there is a weight to everything that's happening. We are meant to be scared.
The plot isn't the problem. I think this is an issue caused by the writers. To be blunt about it: They don't have any balls.
Instead of putting us in a situation in which we care about the characters or have something that we don't want to lose, like giving us a reason to be scared of Tripitaka failing, they chicken out. Every moment of danger doesn't matter, because there is nothing to lose. The main characters have Plot Armor. It doesn't matter what happens, because in five minutes, we'll be in a new half of the adventure. So who cares if Tripitaka is poisoned? We have already moved on.
I think that this show is trying to be "Inuyasha", but what took Inuyasha 193 episodes to do - which I have watched three times - this show tried to do it in 10. The show is rushed, and any scenes that should be slowed down are expedited. The writers want you to be invested, but don't take the time to make you invested.
After the first episode, it's as if someone pressed the acceleration button - so much so that I checked the settings on my TV like six times to make sure that wasn't what was happening. The first episode is a little like this, but its pacing is more exciting than too fast. After that, it just takes off and leaves us in the dust.
I really wish this show had been executed better than it was, because parts of it I did like. It was campy and funny, and the story is interesting. Tripitaka is worth the whole show. But the problems are enormous, and I don't think that it's getting a second season, or that it even should.