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Friday, June 11, 2010


I never got into those bonehead action-adventure shows such as "Xena" and "Hercules", so THE NEW ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD: THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON (1997), which is pretty much cut from the same bolt of chintz, didn't exactly set me all a-quiver.  (Get it?  Arrows?  Quiver?  Ha, ha.)  Fortunately, it's a definite cut above the SyFy Channel dud BEYOND SHERWOOD FOREST, although it makes the BBC's recent "Robin Hood" series look like "Masterpiece Theater." 

These aren't your standard "men in tights"--in fact, Robin (American actor Matthew Porretta, who appeared in the Mel Brooks comedy), with his black T-shirt and leather pants, looks like he just got through shopping at Ye Olde Gap.  The main group is pared down to four this time, with Robin, Marion, Little John, and Friar Tuck the only members of the merry band and characters such as Will Scarlet and Allan A Dale nowhere in sight.  An ineffectual Prince John makes a few appearances but not enough to establish any kind of continuing storyline, and Sir Guy of Gisborne shows up exactly once.  Even Robin's traditional nemesis, the Sheriff of Nottingham, has been abandoned to make room for all the mongols, vikings, wizards, witches, dragons, and other nuisances who occupy Robin's spare time when he isn't robbing from the rich. 

Little John (Richard Ashton) reminds me of a long-haired version of Jody McCrae's Deadhead from the "Beach Party" movies, only dumber.  Surprisingly enough, Friar Tuck (Martyn Ellis) actually looks like the short, squat friar we've come to expect.  Perpetually smirking Robin himself is anything but the standard action hero--he's more like a wiseguy slacker who's working on his first goatee.  It's hard to imagine him as the beloved savior of the English common man and scourge of the pampered upper class.

As for Marion, she's one of those irritating medieval feminist types whose specialty is bashing guys in the crotch.  In one episode, she even teaches a "self-defense class" for some village women who are being harrassed by amorous soldiers.  Heaven forbid anyone would call this Marion a "maid"--even her name has been masculinized.  Still, one of the most stimulating aspects of the show is watching the gorgeous Anna Galvin run around in her revealing miniskirt-and-boots superheroine costume.  The show itself, in fact, is pretty much Cleavage City, with enough upper-boobage on display to send the adolescent male audience that it's geared for into fits (not to mention us old pervs). 

You can't really blame the producers for having to work within a limited budget, but using the same castle gate and stone corridors in every episode does tend to nudge the show into "Jason of Star Command" territory at times.  The shoddy digital effects also add to the show's low-rent atmosphere.  On the plus side, copious amounts of stock National Geographic footage augment the Lithuanian forest locations rather nicely. 

Aside from a couple of the leads, the acting is generally pretty bad, with few castmembers even attempting British accents.  Much of the dialogue is willfully anachronistic, as in the following examples:  "Move it or lose it!" "Talk about a security system!" "Let's go kick some butt!"  In one scene, Marion remarks that a bound Robin seems to be getting a little too much into "that bondage thing." 

Each episode is loaded with fights between Robin's band and various sword-slinging foes, but the action direction and choreography are sluggish and awkward.  Bad guys invariably stumble around as though in a daze and fall over unconscious whenever the good guys poke something in their direction.  Once in a while there's a fairly decent swordfight, but again it's all directed and edited in such an offhand way that it's rarely ever convincing.  And some of the free-for-all fight finales are so goofy that I almost expected them to be accompanied by a Monkees song.

With Robin no longer matching wits with the Sheriff of Nottingham, and all the old political intrigue replaced by more juvenile plotlines, the stories are laden with fanciful villains and lots of sorcery.  In one episode, Genghis Khan's younger brother leads his mongols against Robin Hood in hopes of gaining fame ("My stupid brother Genghis gets all the publicity!" he complains).  In another, a motley group of vikings land ashore and threaten our heroes by summoning the power of the Norse gods.  Cackling witches, spell-casting wizards, and even a crashed space alien with a really bad makeup job take turns causing trouble in Sherwood Forest.  It's sort of fun if you don't take any of it seriously for a second--the occasional appearance of Christopher Lee as the good wizard Olwyn helps--but the show tends to give off a garish, bad-Irwin Allen vibe that I found somewhat unpalatable at times. 

The four-disc DVD set from Warner Brothers, which contains all 13 first-season episodes, is in fullscreen with Dolby 2.0 sound.  There are no subtitles or extras.  This is a manufacture-on-demand product and is sold exclusively on the Warner Bros. online shop, the first of several contemporary and classic TV series/season sets that WB plans to release.  I'm looking forward to seeing what their next titles will be. 

THE NEW ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD: THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON has no finesse whatsoever--it's just a blunt instrument whacking the viewer over the head with crude, dumb-fun entertainment.  If you surrender to it, you may enjoy it for what it is.  If not, this half-baked batch of goofy hijinks may have you fleeing Sherwood Forest on the next thing running.

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