For families that binge read the “Percy Jackson and the Olympians” book series together, or kids that fixated on the mythology units in school or pretended to live in the past, “Theodosia” on HBO Max is a show for you.
A new option catering to families and kids on the streaming service, “Theodosia” is centered around ancient Egyptian mythology and magic. Based on the book series for young readers by Robin LaFevers, Eloise Little (“His Dark Materials”) plays the eponymous character, a fourteen-year-old girl. Set in 1906, the show features Alistair Throckmorton (Rik Young, “Find Me in Paris”), Eloise’s father, who curates the Museum of Legends and Antiquities in London. The Throckmorton family lives in the museum, and after they bring back artifacts from an excavation in the Valley of the Kings, Theo (her familial nickname) recognizes that the artifacts hold magic that only she can see.
The writing is straightforward and direct. There is simplistic but relatable bickering between Theo and her brother Henry (Frankie Minchella, debut) when they are forced to spend time together. There is a lot of over-explaining of the details of certain items or animals in the scenes, which, while annoying for older viewers, caters to children. The writing is strongest between Theo and her new friend Will (Nana Agyeman-Bediako, “Come Away”). The two engage in some witty banter on the streets of London and then at an arcade (which oddly operates exactly as arcades do in the modern world, with players competing on games for high scores). However, the writing hardly manages to afford these characters any personality. The lines are delivered flatly, and most of the actors have no real chemistry between them, whether playing friends or family. Little provides the most compelling of the performances in the show, portraying Theo as a curious, strong and intelligent young teenager through her movement rather than her speech. In one scene, she leans in to inspect hieroglyphs, while in another she almost instinctively steps in front of her brother to protect him from a threat.
Unfortunately, the cinematography of the show adds yet another barrier that prevents the viewer from getting any real sense of who these characters are. The camera always seems close up when it should be the opposite, or moving when it should be sedentary, preventing viewers from adequately taking in the setting and seeing the actions of the characters. This problem is particularly glaring in our introduction to the Museum of Legends and Antiquities after the family returns home from the excavation. Supposedly a uniquely incredible place for intellectuals as well as observers to learn about the past, it appears simply as a room with various statues haphazardly arranged. There is no focus given to, or respect for, the importance of the location.
Also contributing to the viewers’ inability to grasp a sense of character and place is the lack of transitions between locations. For example, there is zero explanation given when the family returns to London; no text at the bottom of the screen stating the change in country. Later, in the middle of the first episode, there is a cut to what is assumed to be the villain for the season as they meet with someone. This very brief scene is desperately misplaced, breaking the flow with its abrupt arrival.
While it has its flaws, “Theodosia” is first and foremost meant for young viewers. The characters may not be compelling enough for parents to enjoy the show as well, but at least their children should be able to find interest in the action and escape the show provides. The 1906 setting is a landscape not often featured in children’s shows — with magic and mythology layered on top, there are many reasons why kids might be intrigued by the story.
“Theodosia” is certainly cheesy and straightforward, but as someone who found their passion for mythology and history through a children’s book series, I found this show surprisingly nostalgic. Viewers may find themselves looking past its imperfections purely because of the anticipation and excitement it will bring to elementary age kids who will hopefully find new interests from this TV show.
Daily Arts Writer Mallory Edgell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.