I never watched The Bastard Executioner. I don’t personally know anyone who has. I know that people who write about TV for a living are apparently duty-bound to adore Sons of Anarchy and were therefore intrigued to see Kurt Sutter’s follow-up project, Bastard Executioner, a 14th century historical fiction drama set in Wales. Why was the guy mostly known for The Shield and Sons of Anarchy taking a stab at creating his own very expensive version of Game of Thrones? Because the dude’s got range, and shut up, that’s why. How can we even tell this apart from that really similar, other historical fiction drama starting on BBC America (The Last Kingdom) around the same time? Well, one of them is on FX, and the other is on BBC America. Duh. Plus, the one on FX has Stephen Moyer from True Blood. Could BBC America afford to employ the legendary Bill Compton from Bon Temps? I think not. Good day, sir!
Once Bastard Executioner premiered, the reviews seemed to agree: The show was overly long, impossibly dense and nowhere near as good as it should be. In fact, across the 10-episode first season the hilariously padded length of each episode turned into a recurring joke on The AV Club, e.g., “How many extra minutes will FX let Kurt Sutter stuff into tonight’s episode of Bastard Executioner?”
I don’t know if the show got better since the pilot, and I bet this will turn into a situation where people will binge watch the entire season months from now and demand that FX bring it back. If so, it will be too little too late because Bastard Executioner turned into the anti-Sons of Anarchy, ratings wise. That show famously improved its ratings with each subsequent season whereas Bastard Executioner‘s ratings apparently kept going down with each new episode.
So, with the season finale airing last night Kurt Sutter took out an ad in The Hollywood Reporter to announce the show’s cancellation.
The cancellation was a mutual decision made by FX’s President John Landgraf and Sutter, and the cast and crew were informed of the decision via email prior to the publication of the ad. Moyer saw it coming and was already scouting other projects by at least the 7th episode of the season whereas the rest of the cast is full of unknown British actors who will all now move on to some play or BBC thing because that’s just what British actors do.
That’s not me making a joke about British actors; that’s pretty much exactly what Sutter told THR in an interview discussing the end of the show. Forever known as one of the most honest and blunt men in Hollywood (his many rants against the Emmys for not nominating his wife, Katey Segal, for Anarchy were always hilarious), he comes off as someone who now realizes his best move would have been to take a break after Anarchy and then make Executioner. As it is, he went from one to the other and fell victim to extreme exhaustion, regularly falling behind on scripts and having to defer directing duties to others so that he could finish the damn scripts.
We live in an era where it seems like absolutely no one watches shows like Getting On and Doll & Em on HBO or Power on Starz, yet they live on for multiple seasons. It is a time when a show’s goal is to create a passionate fanbase that will keep coming back, even if that fanbase is small and not likely to ever grow in numbers. Low-rated cable shows thrive in this environment, and it’s sometimes hard to know just how low a show’s numbers have to fall before it gets canceled. They obviously reached that point with Executioner, and Sutter was not afraid to admit that it’s not fun writing something no one’s watching, “I don’t write in a vacuum. I’m not the guy sitting in my ivory tower spitting shit out not caring if anyone is watching. I like an audience. I don’t want to write something that nobody’s f—ing watching. And yes, some of that is ego. But some of it is just, [if no one’s watching] then I’m not necessarily doing my job.”
What about you? Did you watch The Bastard Executioner? Are you sad to see it go? Or are there so many historical fiction dramas out there right now that you’ve learned to tune all of them out and just wait for Game of Thrones to come back? Let me know in the comments.
*Answer to the pop quiz: The Last Kingdom