In the Polish series CRACOW MONSTERS, a medical student joins a group of supernaturally gifted students working with a mysterious professor to investigate demonology. A work of dark urban fantasy with strong roots in Polish mythology, the series follows genre conventions while serving up something that feels unconventional, gritty, and lived in. I liked this one a lot, it’s a lot of fun.
In the first episode, we meet Alex, starting her first year at medical school in the city of Cracow. The sole survivor of several tragedies, haunted by the death of her mother and horrific night terrors, she worries she will go insane like her mother and distracts herself with partying and sex. (Ah, to be young again, when you can party hard all night and then go to class the next morning with a giant cup of coffee feeling a little worse for wear but ready to go.) When she’s invited by a brilliant professor to an internship with his group of gifted students, she enters a world where Polish mythology is real. And she learns she is at the center of it.
There’s a lot to like here. Cracow is wonderfully gritty, its locations offering a distinctly European mix of hip and modern with old and even ancient. The characters are basically angsty hipsters, but they’re believable, and they’re interesting as a team. The monsters are terrific–a pair of twins who are succubi, a monstrous version of Krampus/Santa Claus, and so on–all controlled by a malevolent spirit who may not be a demon but instead a god. The plot rolls out as a simple dark urban fantasy but with just enough complexity that it comes together. The Polish lore is great.
All’s not perfect, as it rarely is. The pacing may be a little slow for some, at least in the early episodes (I personally didn’t mind the slow build). Alex is difficult nearly to the point of being unlikable, though that’s a common reaction for me watching something with a strong dash of YA in it. Her battles with various monsters roll out without much tension, they seem to resolve easily and in a scripted manner. And as is common with TV shows where the writers want to keep a sense of mystery going, characters argue, avoid talking, or “cease to exist” due to a cutaway when a simple conversation would fix things. Also common, the arch villain talks about how he’s going to kill the protagonist instead of easily doing it. A number of smaller plot questions were punted to Season 2.
But no matter. Though the Neil Gaiman style of urban fantasy isn’t my usual thing, I liked this one a lot, and there’s plenty on the table for a second season if it earns it. Recommended if you’re looking for fresh, offbeat, and highly immersive dark fantasy.