Man, I've missed Xena.
I gave up watching Warrior Princess in its last season because it got all feely and spiritual, but in a really gloomy, dark way that just wasn't fun anymore. When my wife started watching it -- and got me and all my friends to start watching it too -- it was about the time that Joxer and Calisto were becoming regular characters. It was an awesome show with lots of fighting and laughter and cheesy effects. I looked forward to that show like I don't any other show on TV these days. But that might change.
My friend Shara recently mentioned watching Robin Hood on BBC America. Not the old Jason Connery one from the '80s with the Clannad soundtrack, cool as that was. But a new one. Like her, I've got a very old fondness for the Robin Hood legend and it may be Disney's fault. I remember begging my parents to let me go see the Disney version when it was released in 1973. What I don't remember is if I was already a Robin Hood fan by then. I probably was, though I don't remember my initial exposure to the stories. Regardless, the Disney version definitely solidified my love for Rob and his band of Merry Men.
So, I had to check out the BBC's version.
I kept thinking about Xena.
The first episode opens with the famous poaching scene that seems to make it into just about every Robin Hood movie. Although, unlike the Howard Pyle version of the legends that I grew up reading, the movies always make the poacher someone besides Robin so that he has to rescue them. In the BBC version, the poacher is Allan A'Dale.
The relationship between Robin and his manservant Much is totally reminiscent of Hercules and Iolaus from Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, but the similarities to Hercules and Xena don't end there. Shortly after saving Allan, Robin and Much stop to help a cloth merchant do some work in return for some dinner. Unfortunately for Much, the merchant has a hot, heavily mascaraed daughter in a low-cut dress who wants to smooch on Rob. The merchant catches them and sword-fighting ensues, complete with "whooshing" sound effects and the kind of combat acrobatics Xena fans love. I'm telling you, my heart sang.
We eventually learn that -- like in Prince of Thieves -- Rob and Much are returning home from the Crusades to find England much different than when they left it. The old sheriff (who happens to have a daughter named Marian) is no longer in charge and the new one is... well, you know what the Sheriff of Nottingham is like. Sir Guy of Gisborne has taken up residence in Locksley Manor and is managing Robin's lands in his absence. Naturally, Robin bristles at the changes.
As much as the Xena-ness of it all, what I loved about the first episode (the only one I've seen so far, but TiVo has another ready for me) is the conflict that Robin of Locksley has to go through in order to become Robin Hood. In Prince of Thieves, it's an easy transition. You killed my father; prepare to die. Here, Robin has to struggle with it. Sir Guy readily gives up Locksley Manor to its true master once Robin returns and it would be very easy for Robin to sort of just go with the new status quo. Unfortunately, the sons of one of his close friends are arrested for robbery and sentenced to hang. The old sheriff counsels Robin to wait and consolidate some power before taking on the new sheriff. The boys will die, but it's the only way for Robin to eventually win. Robin believes this, but he's horrified by the fact that the can't save the boys. To save them, he'd become an outlaw and have to give up his lands and power and everything he knows.
We all know what choice he eventually makes, but it's really well played out in the story and we feel how difficult a decision it is for Rob. In Prince of Thieves, the decision is made for him. He has no choice but to fight Nottingham. The Robin in this version is much more heroic.
The cast is all great. I wasn't impressed with the look of Robin (from the stills I saw) until I watched the show and saw how completely dashing and swashbuckling Jonas Armstrong is in the role. Keith Allen is a brilliant Sheriff of Nottingham. He's cruel, but likeable.
Hopefully, future episodes are as fun and well-written as this one. If they are, I've got a new favorite show.