The bad guys are really, really bad.
The show, Netflix’s “Frontier,” is about the lucrative fur trade in the 18th century, and those bad guys are really, really greedy, not to mention really, really violent, particularly when there are really, really sharp blades within reach. They all want a piece of the action, and they will do anything [insert Snidely Whiplash laugh on reverb] to get it.
In other words, “Frontier” is not subtle. It’s an old-fashioned action-adventure tale whose hourlong episodes — there are six in the first season — play like an old-fashioned Saturday matinee. Lots of different factions, including Americans, Brits, Scots, natives, and Irish, run around the beautiful wilderness of Canada — before it was Canada — hoping to get a bigger piece of the trade. Of course, the Hudson’s Bay Company is not going to let that happen; it has a monopoly on the fur trade, and its goons will fight to maintain it.
The biggest threat to the Hudson’s Bay monopoly: a former employee named Declan Harp, played by Jason Momoa. Like Momoa’s Khal Drogo from “Game of Thrones,” Declan is big and bad, but maybe not entirely evil. He’s after the fur trade, and, like just about everyone else here, he’s a murderer. But he is half Irish and half Cree, and he treats the local natives with respect — unlike the British — as he tries to make a deal with them. Also, he’s played by Momoa, who, despite his towering strength, often has wryness and kindness playing around his eyes, even in a scene where he has animal blood smeared all over him.
The heaviest of the heavies is a Brit named Lord Benton, a calculating Hudson’s Bay Company man whose favorite activity is torturing people for information (his second favorite is killing them). His bite is a whole lot worse than his bark. He uses a young Irish man he caught stowing away on his ship to North America, Michael Smyth (Landon Liboiron), to enact a plan against Declan, who lives secretly in the wilds. When I saw Benton’s face, my first thought was: Dickensian villain. Indeed, actor Alun Armstrong’s IMDb page reveals he has been in a number of Dickens adaptations, including a turn as the nefarious Flintwich in PBS’s “Little Dorrit.” Benton has come overseas to turn Declan into an example of what happens to those who betray the Hudson’s Bay Company.
There are a number of other supporting characters, including Grace Emberly (Zoe Boyle), an information-gathering bartender at a tavern who’s playing a number of sides at once, and an American named Samuel Grant (Shawn Doyle), with whom Declan wants to make a deal. A cowardly, two-faced priest, Father James Coffin (Christian McKay), shows up to offer some comic relief.
Created by Rob and Peter Blackie, the show doesn’t develop these subplots so much as hurry them along so we won’t get bored. Benton and Declan are heading toward each other like rushing trains, and that may be all we need to know. “Frontier” is moderately entertaining, but consistently unchallenging.
Starring: Jason Momoa, Landon Liboiron, Alun Armstrong, Zoe Boyle, Christian McKay, Evan Jonigkeit, Lyla Porter-Follows
On: Netflix, streaming Friday