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‘Riese’ Is Like A Shakespearean Tragedy

EXCLUSIVE: Steampunk web series is approaching an uncharted niche of sci-fi

When you think about successful series that have been developed for the web, you can’t help but think about “Sanctuary.”

That series was so successful that Syfy moved it from the web to traditional television. Now, “Riese: Kingdom Falling” is in a very similar position after receiving a strong critical following and attracting several notable names within the genre.

Set in the land of Eleysia, which has just witnessed a political coup détat with Amara (Sharon Taylor, known for her roles in “Stargate: Atlantis” and “Smallville”) taking control of the Kingdom. But she didnt do it alone and was aided by The Sect, a fanatical religious group that has its own sinister plan (and presumably a purpose behind supporting Amara).

But “Riese” is different from most fantasy shows. For a start, it is a steampunk series, which means it includes not only the science and technology of the science-fiction genre, but with a 19th century twist. And, according to actor Patrick Gilmore, that is what makes “Riese” so unique.

“A steampunk inspired series, to my knowledge, hasnt really been done before,” Gilmore told Airlock Alpha. “You look at the Syfy channel itself and you see ‘Legend of the Seeker.’ I keep hearing that name myself, and I’ve seen clips of it, but I think it’s closer to a fantasy show. Steampunk has been on my radar for years but I’ve never really known it as steampunk. It has always been a very Jules Verne future and Victorian. I never could put a name to it and once I got with ‘Riese’ they said, ‘You know, it’s called steampunk.’ So the fact that they found this niche to put a series together that will fill that fantasy and steampunk genre is kinda ground breaking.”

So “Riese” shouldn’t be compared to “Legend of the Seeker,” because aside from the fact that they are set in fantasy realms, the two shows really dont have much else in common.

Ryan Robbins, who plays Rand in the series, recently told Airlock Alpha that he sees the show as something of a dark fairytale for grownups. However, once you start watching and begin questioning the motivations of the central characters, there is something more at work : something almost Shakespearean in nature.

Gilmore takes on the role of Trennan, a mid-ranking member of The Sect, serving as an attendant/liaison to Empress Amara. As the series unfolds, it becomes clear that Trennan has deep feelings for the Empress, and that he doesn’t quite know how to express them (or even if he should express them for that matter).

When asked if he was aware of just how Shakespearean the story actually was, Gilmore emphatically agreed that that the show was “very much so” a story worthy of the great Bard.

“And that’s the part that is unsettling, it’s a tragedy,” Gilmore said. “The whole setup is a classic tragedy and has elements of ‘Macbeth’ and elements of ‘Hamlet.’ I remember even Sharon Taylor saying, ‘You know how Shakespearean this is?’ Trennan himself is a tragic figure. Unless he changes his own makeup his future doesnt look bright.”

Are dark times on the way for Trennan? Maybe, but they certainly won’t be as dark as what is unfolding in “Stargate: Universe,” in which Gilmore plays Dr. Volker. What will happen in “Riese,” though, is that Trennan will be placed in a very difficult position as he struggles to understand if he has an agenda in his dealings with the Empress or if he just wants to survive her reign.

“In the mythology of the show Trennan kind of rose through the ranks of The Sect by keeping his mouth shut and keeping his head down, because in a military coup and a religious coup, you just need to make a little bit of noise and the target will be on you,” Gilmore said. “He rose to the position he did by staying under the radar. And in that way, for someone if they had a little more backbone and a little more foresight, he could really manipulate the situation that Trennan is in right now. He has the ear of the Empress and he is also an officer in The Sect at a high level, so he could be playing both sides to his advantage but he’s not sure how to do that and he’s just looking to survive.”

Unfortunately for Trennan, other Elysians don’t share the need to go unnoticed and his association with Amara will place him in some difficult situations.

“People use him in that manner rather than him taking advantage of it,” he explained. “So with Amara it becomes extremely complicated because in the time that he spends with her, he’s developed strong feelings for her and he’s picked up on it and I think she’s going to use that to her advantage and try to manipulate Trennan. And not to give too much away but that plays out in a manipulation of who is using who and to what end. It’s fun to see and you have no idea where it’s going to go.”

You can be forgiven though if the first thing that strikes you about Trennan isn’t the tragedy of his situation and instead the mechanical device strapped to his eye. In the show, The Sect have taken control of the kingdom and their agents have all been purified by way of technological augmentation.

In Trennan’s case, that augmentation comes in the form of an eye piece. However, there are cases when it can go too far, as Herrick (Ben Cotton) clearly demonstrates. Gilmore was quick to point out the similarities between both characters; Trennan is human with only minor technological adaptation, whereas Herrick is more machine now than man. And yes, he also agrees there is an element of Star Wars to that comparison.

As the series progresses, viewers will see more interaction between Trennan and Herrick, which will really show just what Trennan is made of : especially when it comes to the slaughter of an entire village.

Thus far, although they may not be noticeable, there have been significant alterations in the eye piece worn by Trennan and that will prove to be crucial if (or is it when?) “Riese” returns for more adventures.

“The eye piece itself in the first chapter when we filmed was just black and you couldnt see through it. It fit comfortably enough but when you’re wearing it for hours and hours on end and I became quite dizzy and nauseous,” Gilmore recalled. “So when we filmed the second chapter they developed a new eye piece that looks so great. Its molded specifically for my face and you get a little bit of peripheral vision, there’s kind of a pin hole. I had to do some bo staff fighting, and they wanted me to have just a little bit more vision so I wouldn’t get blind sighted by Sharon Taylor who is like a black belt in, well … everything. I’m not a black belt in anything and they wanted me to have a little bit more vision.

“But I still get the headaches, so we’re talking that if this goes to series or if we do Chapter 3, when we do Chapter 3, I’ll have to get it on and off pretty quickly.”

Originally, “Riese” was filmed in Vancouver and proved so popular that a second chapter was produced, continuing the adventures of Riese and the Elysian kingdom. That popularity soon caught the attention of Syfy who is now hosting the series as part of Syfy Rewind, with the series receiving a slight makeover and a new narration from Amanda Tapping.

If all goes well, “Riese” could be the next web series to make the transition from web to screen. Already Syfy has unveiled a slew of new shows that are going into development, ranging from light-hearted comedies (ala “Warehouse 13” and “Eureka”) with more hard-hitting shows, such as “Battlestar Galactica: Blood & Chrome,” also moving into development.

So it’s fair to say that Syfy is living up to its mission statement, and is quite clearly imagining greater.

And, according to Gilmore, that is something that the production team behind “Riese” has in common with the cable channel as they literally built the series out of nothing.

But what is interesting is that if “Riese” does make the transition to television is that the series will not disappear from the web entirely. Instead, the web can only enhance the show in much the same way that “The Resistance” did for “Battlestar Galactica,” and the Kinosodes are doing for “Stargate: Universe.”

Plus, there is no one to boss you around when you’re producing for the web.

“At the beginning Ryan [Copple] and Kaleena [Kiff] were pretty comfortable with the medium of the web because you dont have to answer to anybody, you dont need to answer to the network,” Gilmore said. “You can create what you want to create and it’s for a specific audience. And I think for sci-fi where the fanbase is quite tech-savvy. It’s a perfect pace to have a show be put up. Judging by some of the numbers I’m hearing coming through and some of the numbers I see that ‘Stargate: Universe’ gets, TV is the place to reach more people at this point still.”

Riese: Kingdom Falling is now available at Syfy Rewind with new episodes being added on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

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