There are so many streaming options available these days, and so many conflicting recommendations, that it’s hard to see through all the crap you could be watching. Each Friday, The Verge’s Cut the Crap column simplifies the choice by sorting through the overwhelming multitude of movies and TV shows on subscription services, and recommending a single perfect thing to watch this weekend.
What to watch
“Purgatory,” the first episode of the horror / Western series Wynonna Earp. Set in the present (or at least a fantastical facsimile), the show stars Melanie Scrofano as the title character, the great-great-granddaughter of Wyatt Earp. At the start of the story, Wynonna has just turned 27 and has returned to her old hometown of Purgatory, in the vicinity of the Canadian Rockies. Chapter one introduces her sister Waverly (Dominique Provost-Chalkley), who’s obsessed with the Earp family mythology, and US Deputy Marshall Xavier Dolls (Shamier Anderson), who works for a special government division called “Black Badge,” tracking down supernatural outlaws known as “Revenants.” Wynonna’s partially responsible for calling the monsters to Purgatory, and she may be the only one who can dispatch them, with the help of “Peacemaker,” the long-barrelled Colt Buntline Special revolver she inherited from her great-great-grandpa.
Why watch now?
Because the third season of Wynonna Earp begins on Friday, July 20th on Syfy at 9PM ET (following an online “sneak preview” of the season premiere earlier this week).
TV critic Maureen Ryan wrote an enlightening article for The New York Times earlier this month, explaining how a show that generally registers under a million viewers a week made it all the way to season 3, while other Syfy favorites have been more quickly canceled. Creator Emily Andras (adapting Beau Smith’s comic book series) credits a fervent fan base, which is already organizing conventions around the world, after refreshingly positive interactions online with each other and the cast. Wynonna Earp is monetized in creative ways, as Ryan outlines in the Times, but those revenue streams wouldn’t sustain the series if “Earpers” weren’t so devoted to the show.
The season 3 premiere, “Blood Red and Going Down” (named for one of Tanya Tucker’s best songs), makes a strong return, presenting a series that understands its strengths. As Wynonna regains her power after the physically taxing events of season 2 — which included an unexpected pregnancy — Purgatory is visited by a vampire cult with ancient ties to the area. The episode starts out as a light romp, leaning on several of the elements that make Wynonna Earp such a fun “hangout” show, including Waverly’s sweet romance with Deputy Sheriff Nicole Haught (Katherine Barrell), and Wynonna’s tendency toward vulgarity even when she’s trying to act suave. In the closing minutes, though, “Blood Red and Going Down” takes a terrifying turn, setting up this year’s story arc.
Because “Purgatory” is an introductory episode, it doesn’t yet offer the rich characterizations and dense mythology that makes Wynonna Earp so impressive now. But the sense of humor is evident from the start, thanks in large part to Scrofano and Provost-Chalkley’s entertaining chemistry as the Earp gals. Andras starts developing the major themes and motifs right away, first by setting up the show’s basic premise — that the Earps are cursed, and the vengeful Revenants represent the spirits of the people great-great-grandpa Wyatt killed — and then by bringing back one of the most important figures from the real-life Earp saga, Doc Holliday (Tim Rozon). As wild and wacky as Wynonna Earp can be, it’s also about something serious: the question of family legacies, and whether we’re fated to pay for our ancestors’ sins.
Who it’s for
Fans of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Supernatural, or anyone who enjoys seeing genres get jumbled.
Although this is hardly the biggest-budgeted hour of TV, Andras and her crew do pepper Wynonna Earp liberally with both Western and horror thrills. In “Purgatory,” Wynonna borrows “the best ride in your stable” from a saloon-keeper, which turns out to be a sleek black motorcycle that she rides to a showdown with a Revenant. Then, during the gunfight, she draws on the Earp family’s phenomenal gifts with weaponry to best the enemy with a wicked bullet ricochet.
Even better than its comic book craziness, Wynonna Earp has become a model for how to make a fantasy story mature but not off-puttingly gloomy. Too many shows in the past decade, having learned the wrong lessons from Joss Whedon, head straight for grim plot twists and deep angst without first taking the time to develop characters and situations that viewers actually care about. Wynonna Earp, on the other hand, has became a favorite of LGBTQ TV fans, because of the positive way it’s told Waverly and Nicole’s love story — which is indicative of the attention the writers have paid to the relationships between all their heroes. These are likable folks to spend time with, even when they’re not shooting cool-looking guns at demons.
Where to see it
Netflix. All 25 episodes from the series’s first two seasons are available, so if you like “Purgatory,” you could set your DVR for season 3, and catch up with the rest fairly quickly before watching the latest run. Or you could watch “Purgatory” and then jump right into Wynonna Earp with the new season. You won’t understand all the history between the characters right away, but this show isn’t too complex to figure out on the fly.