'The Wheel of Time,' streaming, Amazon Prime

NEW YORK (CNS) -- "The Wheel of Time" moves, unfortunately, at a snail's pace in a ponderous new fantasy series overstuffed with familiar-looking wizards, warriors and monsters.

Three of the series' eight episodes are streaming now on Amazon Prime. Remaining installments will be available each Friday through Dec. 24.

Based on the novels by Robert Jordan, the narrative falls somewhere between J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Lord of the Rings" and George R.R. Martin's "A Game of Thrones." The problem does not lie in the cinematography, which is lush and dazzling, the attractive cast, or the impressive costumes and sets.

Rather, the program's team of writers get bogged down in their complex task of exposition, testing viewers' patience. Moreover, those unfamiliar with the Jordan canon will need a handbook and a pronunciation guide to keep track of a dizzying array of characters and plot lines.

At the heart of this morass is Moiraine Damodred (Rosamund Pike). She's a formidable member of the Aes Sedai ("Servants of All"), an exclusively female organization whose members wield a spiritual power akin to that of the Jedi Knights in the "Star Wars" universe.

Women rule in this fantasy world, for most men went mad eons ago when their leader, called Dragon, lost control of something called the One Power and tore the kingdom apart. Now, Moiraine is convinced that the long-dead Dragon has been reincarnated and can be conditioned to assume power again and defeat a brand-new threat, aptly called the Dark One, who is "waking."

Dragon 2.0 would be about 21 years old. So Moiraine and her trusty butler, Lan Mandragoran (Daniel Henney) -- there are still a few good men around -- embark on a quest for likely candidates.

Four plucky young adults fit the profile, three men and one woman. There's handsome shepherd Rand al'Thor (Josha Stradowski), village healer Egwene al'Vere (Madeleine Madden) -- with whom Rand is in love -- hunky blacksmith Perrin Aybara (Marcus Rutherford) and hipster dude Mat Cauthon (Barney Harris).

If this sounds like a quartet of hobbits setting out on a perilous journey with the help of a wise wizard, you're on the right track, but in the wrong story. The journey to the White Tower, seat of Aes Sedai power, is long and arduous, and our group is not only chased by the Dark One's gruesome minions, called Trollocs (think Tolkien's Orcs), but by bloodthirsty wolves as well.

As "The Wheel of Time" grinds on, the expected gratuitous elements of a contemporary fantasy show put in their unwelcome appearance. Here they include sex, nudity, gory violence and even cannibalism.

"I didn't choose this path, but I will follow it," Moiraine proclaims. Only the hardiest TV fans should steel themselves to accompany her.

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McAleer is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.