The Barbarian and the Troll

Credits

Cast

Network

Reviewer

Paul Asay

TV Series Review

Sometimes, questing just doesn’t pay.

Brendar knows that all too well. She was once part of the in-crowd—a warrior princess serving the magical Queen Helen. She loved the life of fighting monsters and fighting more monsters. Alas, Queen Helen was less enthused. She likes her warrior princesses to cut ribbons, not dragons.

“You’re a loose cannon, Brendar,” Helen announces. “So I’m taking your sword, your sparkly tunic and your sensible assault footwear.” Worse yet, Brendar is demoted all the way down to barbarian, which hasn’t been a fashionable gig in Gothmoria for ever-so-long. Still, it gives her a free hand to fight monsters, so there’s that.

Evan, the troll, doesn’t particularly like fighting monsters. He spent most of his adult life lurking underneath one of his dad’s many bridges, trying to exact tolls from innocent passersby. But Evan really wants to be a musician, and toll-taking and music-making just don’t blend, man. So he (literally) burns his bridge and sets out on his own, trying to experience life and make his lyrics a little more exciting.

Brendar seems like she’d be Evan’s ideal, brutish muse after they bump into each other in a tavern.

Together, these two puppe—er, adventurers travel the world of Gothmoria, searching for monsters, treasure and some resolution for Brendar’s notoriously complicated backstory, which includes a murdered mother, a captured brother and a demon named Alvin.

Huzzah!

One String to Rule Them All

Give it to Nickelodeon. When they name a show The Barbarian and the Troll, that’s what you get: a barbarian and a troll.

You also get puppets. It’s no accident that many of the characters here look like Jim Henson’s Muppets: Co-creator Drew Massey cut his teeth with Henson’s merry gang before joining forces with director Mike Mitchell for this clever Nick lark.

And yes, it is pretty entertaining … for adults. But its all-audience TV-G rating feels a bit generous.

Granted, it’s hard to get too bloody when you’re dealing with a bunch of puppets. Still, I was surprised in the premiere episode to see Brendar rip apart a gigantic serpent with her bare fabric hands, sending cloth intestines and bits of confetti everywhere. “I’m OK,” the dragon weakly says off camera. And indeed, no matter how severely Brendar cuts down (or apart) her adversaries, none of them ever seem too worse for wear. And, of course, it’s all done for laughs. Still, intestines? Really?

And while there’s no foul language to speak of, young viewers might hear words some families will consider impolite. A bit of potty humor gets mixed in as well, and many jokes come with a wink-wink vibe for parents in the audience.

The world of Brendar and Evan contains a bit of spirituality to contend with, too. Naturally, in this sword-and-sorcery world, you’re going to have at least one or two practitioners of the latter. But other forms of spirituality are used as material for the show’s constant drumbeat of gags: Brendar, for instance, grouses that she was made for more than “cutting ribbons at Solstice festivals.”

It feels a little churlish to critique the The Barbarian and the Troll too harshly, when it’s clearly trying to mind its manners. This is no Happytime Murders puppet sludgefest—not by a longshot. It’s fun, witty and might actually be something that kids and parents could enjoy together—not unlike the original Muppet Show, perhaps.

But this Nick offering comes with a bit of a harder edge than the Muppets of old, too. And a few of its jokes could cut the wrong way.

Episode Reviews

April 2, 2021: “Brendar the Barbarian”

While in the middle of a fight with a not-so-fearsome dragon, Brendar gets a magical call from her boss, Queen Helen, who tells her that her “warrior princess” status is hereby revoked. Meanwhile, Evan—after unsuccessfully trying to extract a bridge toll from a kid and her pet goat—decides to leave the troll toll-collecting business and set off for adventure himself. The two meet in a tavern, where Brendar battles a bevy of bony bad guys, and they decide to search for adventure together.

Their first adventure apparently involves Horace Scrubb, a wizard known for his card tricks and fortune telling. (Brendar promises to find the wizard, tear off his beard and use it as a bathmat.) We see magic performed elsewhere, and we hear references to Solstice celebrations and goat yoga.

Brendar beats a serpent into submission with a giant tooth (from some other dead creature) and eventually rips the creature in half, sending fabric intestines and confetti flying. (The serpent mumbles offscreen that he’s just fine.) Brendar also fights several skeletons, whom she pretty much disassembles into flying bits of bone. (The leader also survives, and his disembodied skull talks to the camera while trying to dislodge a bird from his cheekbone.) Brendar makes a number of threats along the lines of, “When respect is lacking, my sword starts hacking.”

 

Evan’s not nearly the violent adventurer that Brendar is. When he closes the gate to the bridge he’s watching, a goat charges Evan and thwacks him in the stomach, knocking him into the gate. Later, Evan has a talk with his dad, the Troll King, who muses whether he’s been too easy on his son. “Maybe I should’ve let your mother eat you when you were a baby,” he says thoughtfully.

“She’s still trying to eat me,” Evan reminds his father. “All the time.”

“That’s a mother’s prerogative, son,” the king says.

Brendar’s barbarian outfit exposes a bit of puppet midriff. People drink at a tavern called The Queen’s Goiter. The troll king tells Evan that his ancestors used to make knights “poop their armor.” An owl exclaims that “droppings just got real.” The word “butt” crops up, sometimes paired with the word “head.” Evan mentions flesh-eating ants in a song. Someone belches.

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Paul Asay

Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.

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