Better leave it lost

Bringing this franchise to the small screen fails to unearth any excitement or new storytelling.

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If the national treasure movies had existed in the 80s, Disney would have totally made a TV show spin-off in the 90s. They would have moved on to younger (and cheaper) teen actors and depicted them traveling the world in search of of treasures linked to important historical sites. It would have made a decent, but not exceptional, mark on pop culture at the time and is now close to the hearts of countless 25 to 35 year olds.

Alas, national treasure and its sequel, National Treasure: Book of Secrets, were made into the naughty aughties. That means we still get that TV series, National Treasure: Edge of History, but now it’s a streamer and stretches a movie’s plot length over a TV season’s worth. Hooray.

National Treasure: Edge of History starts off on the right foot, choosing to focus on a new character that’s radically different from the original national treasure the protagonist Ben Gates. Jess Valenzuela (Lisette Olivera, formerly Lisette Alexis) is a DACA recipient who lives in a lovely loft in Baton Rouge, Louisiana with her best friends Tasha Rivers (Zuri Reed), Oren (Antonio Cipriano) and Ethan (Jordan Rodrigues) . Despite the state of her accommodation, the eagle-eyed American history expert is not very well placed. After her treasure-hunting father died when she was just a baby, Valenzuela was raised by a single mother. Unfortunately, her mother also passed away, a year before the salon opened.

National Treasure: On the Edge of History (Disney+)
Zuri Reed and Lisette Olivera have a sick hacking van. (Disney+/Brian Roedel)

A chance encounter with national treasure Franchise luminary Peter Sadusky (Harvey Keitel) sends our hero down a rabbit hole. He’s the one who forces her to break a promise she made to her mother by embracing her father’s calling. Exploring important clues and landmarks not only puts our protagonist on the path to finding out more about his mysterious father. It also puts her on the wrong side of the infamous Billie Pearce (Catherine Zeta-Jones), sporting a very pronounced blonde hairstyle and a fierce determination to hunt for the treasure of Valenzuela.

Shift the focus of the national treasure the franchise about younger characters is in the mold of other past TV spin-offs and modern “legacy sequel” properties like Star Wars: The Force Awakens. It’s not a bad idea to make sure that edge of history offers something different for potential new fans. In particular, focusing the show on an American immigrant provides a unique perspective on what is historically and globally “important” in relation to Ben Gates and the almost uniformly white and natural population of society. Show creators Cormac and Marianne Wibberley, writers of the original films, are on the right track.

In execution, unfortunately, edge of history falls flat on almost every level. The transition to television means the fun of juxtaposing recognizable landmarks with a convoluted poppy searching for treasure is thrown away. In their place stand generic gift shops and a seedy underpass. They’re all captured with that 2013 ABC drama look: overly bright lighting and unimaginative digital camera work. Episode two sees a particularly serious example as a supposedly intimate conversation between Valenzuela and Ethan in a storage unit is overshadowed by ridiculously bad green screen work. They couldn’t find a U-Haul place to shoot for an afternoon?!?

In execution, unfortunately, edge of history falls flat on almost every level.

Even worse than the visuals, however, is the writing. The first two episodes feature a group of middle-aged writers trying to figure out how the teenagers of 2016 speak. An extended conversation during the second outing involves Valenzuela shouting, “I’m not stanning!”. Rivers’ main character trait is that she is a YouTuber. Several references to hamilton pepper the first in the series. Worse, the style turns nearly every character into comic relief in the style of the Riley (Justin Bartha) movies. All the sarcastic and pop culture-laden jokes quickly become confused, robbing these new individuals of a chance to make a name for themselves.

It’s so frustrating! There are many incredibly interesting ways to incorporate aspects of modern teenage life into fun, self-contained scavenger hunt adventures. Tragically, this program uses near-current slang and references as a showcase for generic stories and conversations.

The music feels a bit more up-to-date with most tracks coming from the past two years. Unfortunately, needle drops are so common that you can’t help but roll your eyes.

National Treasure: On the Edge of History (Disney+)
Lisette Olivera and Harvey Keitel are getting serious. (Disney+/Brian Roedel)

It’s a shame because there are talented people involved here. Director Mira Nair directs the series premiere. It’s quite a challenge and only his second foray into TV directing. However, there is no real record of his inventive filmmaking. On camera, Olivera has flashes of charm in her lead performance, but the opportunities to flourish are limited. Likewise, Keitel lends some welcome gravitas to his explanatory dialogue, but he’s barely in the show.

Most damningly, the treasure hunt is shockingly absent from the first two episodes. Instead, tepid dialogue between the protagonist and her friends dominates, occasionally interrupted by moments of cat-and-mouse fighting between Olivera and Zeta-Jones. Although it’s not a bad idea to do national treasure tv adventures, edge of history fail concept with little personality or sense of fun.

National Treasure: Edge of History starts digging December 14 on Disney+.

National Treasure: Edge of History Trailer:

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