In 2014, ABC aired the original version of The Quest; there, twelve adults were dropped into a scripted fantasy world and had to complete challenges. Now, eight years later, a version that involves teen contestants is streaming on Disney+. It’s almost as if these new contestants have been dropped in the middle of a scene without a script. That might be good, but it might also be a disaster.
THEQUEST: STREAM IT OR SKIP IT?
Opening Shot: “What if you could be a real hero in a fantastical world?” asks a narrator. Then we see scenes from the audition tapes of the contestants on The Quest.
The Gists: The Quest is a unique hybrid of a reality competition and an elaborate scripted fantasy series. Eight real teenagers who are all fans of the fantasy genre are dropped into a situation where they’re considered the only people who can save the kingdom of Sanctum, that’s under siege by a sorceress named Tavora (Mel Mehrabian). Princess Adaline (Racquel Jean-Louis), currently in exile, would take over Sanctum once Tavora is defeated. Her de ella borothers de ella, Emmett (Braeden De La Garza) and Cedric (Elliott Ross) are skeptical that these strangely-dressed teens can do the job.
Summoned by the mythical Divine Crown, the eight teenagers are called Paladins, which is more of a soldier-in-training title, by King Silas (Kerwin Thompson), whose brother died at the hands of Tavora when his kingdom fell. The Fates, in the person of a woman named Talmuh (Nandi Chapman) tells the king and royal court that the Paladins need to retrieve all of the Gems of Virtue in the crown to restore the bond between the Fates and Everrealm, and have the power to fight Tavora. The Fates will award talismans, and the player determined to be the One True Hero will be able to reclaim the kingdom.
With a soldier named Mila (Emily Gateley) leading the way, the eight kids are confronted with the Witch of Foriteer, who holds the Gem of Courage. The Witch gives the group a test which requires them to hike into the dark woods to retrieve the clues that will let them know where the gem is.
What Shows Will It Remind You Of? The Quest feels like a more elaborate version of Legends Of The Hidden Templemarried with a Game of Thrones knock-off series.
Our take: The Quest is billed as an “immersive” experience, likely for both the contestants and the viewers. After the first hour, that assessment seems to be correct. We generally found ourselves watching the first episode less like it’s a reality competition series and more like it’s a scripted series. That’s no accident; it seems that the scripted — or, when they’re interacting with the contestants, the improvised — portion of the show dominated the participation of the teens.
And that part of the show’s presentation is mostly successful. All of the actors do a decent job with their roles. The settings sometimes look like they’re done inside a soundstage instead of outdoors but makeup and set design are both pretty good, which is saying a lot for a genre that has a lot of detail in costumes, makeup and set design. The plot of the show even makes sense and is pretty clear to even people who aren’t fantasy fans. Producers from Lord Of The Rings are involved in this series, so there is some good quality control there.
But The Quest is also a reality competition, and that’s where it falls down on the job. It’s great that the eight teens selected for the contest are a diverse group… if only we remembered anything about them other than their physical appearances. If you asked us to name even one contestant, perhaps the one who got the talisman for the first task, off the top of our heads, we’d draw a blank.
Producers from queer eye and La carrera asombroza are also involved in the show, and both shows are good at introducing to the stories that each contestant/subject brings to the contest, so we can root for them and distinguish each contestant from each other. Here, there’s just some lip service given to the kids’ love of fantasy, which gives them the ability to fight villains and be a hero, but there just isn’t much to hook a viewer’s interest when it comes to who does what during the challenges. In fact, in most scenes, they look about as clueless as the actors joining Will Arnett in murderville; dropped in a scene as the only ones without a script.
It’s only when they’re doing their challenge that we see some distinctions. It’s still confusing, but at least we see what the contestants’ individual abilities are. Right now, they’re all working together, but we wonder if at some point there will be rivalries and alliances formed. Without the benefit of side interviews, it’s hard to know exactly what these kids are thinking.
What Age Group Is This For?: Because of some slight violence, especially in the scripted scenes, we think this show is good for kids 9 and up.
Parting Shot: Tavora sends out a spell that will hopefully slow down the Paladins.
Sleeper Star: Emily Gateley, as Mila, looks like she’ll have to do the bulk of the improvising with the contestants, and she handles it pretty smoothly.
Most Pilot-y Line: “What kingdom are you from?” asks Princess Adaline. “America,” sputters one of the contestants. The Kingdom of America… Maybe we should just leave that right there without further comment.
Our Call: STREAMIT. We wish the producers of The Quest it took some time to help the audience get to know the contestants better. But the scripted show that surrounds them is well done, and should be entertaining enough to watch while we wait for the contestants to show up on screen for each episode’s challenge.
Joel Keller (@joelkeller) writes about food, entertainment, parenting and tech, but he doesn’t kid himself: he’s a TV junkie. His writing of him has appeared in the New York Times, Slate, Salon, RollingStone.com, VanityFair.comFast Company and elsewhere.