Once upon a time – in the mid-1990s, television was invaded by a group of Greek heroes and gods led by Sam Raimi. The first invasion came in the form of a demigod (Hercules, played by Kevin Sorbo) and his friend (Iolaus, played by Michael Hurst) who would right wrongs, save people in distress, and kill monsters or foil devious godly plots. The second invasion was led by a tall woman with amazing warrior skills (Xena, played by Lucy Lawless) and her friend (Gabrielle, played by Renee O’Connor) who basically followed in the same adventure paths as their male predecessors.
These were of course the two TV series – Hercules: The Legendary Journeys and Xena: Warrior Princess – that aired in syndication from 1995 to 1999 (for Hercules) and 1995 to 2001 (for Xena). Both series used tongue-in-cheek humor, occasional sight gags, exaggerated action, and the hero’s journey to explore various story lines roughly based in myths and legends. Both series were very successful and enjoyed long lives in syndication around the world.
And though I knew that other production companies were probably trying to come up with ways to ride their coat tails, I can’t say that I remember any that ever gained much traction on our local television stations in Colorado. So The New Adventures of Robin Hood managed to slip under my radar when it aired for four seasons from 1997 to 1999, airing on TNT from 1997-1998.
The basic idea was to take the stories of Robin Hood and update them in the mold of Hercules and Xena. Add a bit of magic, adventure, witty dialogue, and humor and voila you have a series! So how did I miss it?
Well, Warner Brothers is now releasing the first season of the series for the first time on DVD and it will only be available through the Warner Brothers online store. This is the first of several WB TV series never before released on DVD that they will make available in this fashion.
The first season of The New Adventures of Robin Hood starred Matthew Porretta as Robin, Anna Galvin as Lady Marion Fitzwalter, Richard Ashton as Little John, Martyn Ellis as Friar Tuck, Christopher Lee as Olwyn the Druid/Wizard, and Andrew Bicknell as Prince John. The interplay between Porretta, Galvin, Ashton, and Ellis was quite good I felt and there was an obvious camaraderie there that worked well for comedic and serious elements of the storyline.
And where Xena and Hercules fought creatures from mythology, this series has Robin and his band dealing with other historical groups – Mongols, Vikings, witches, druids, dragons, and even an Arabian knight. Quite the mix of people from a wide variety of times and places in history and tales.
On the four DVDs included in the Season One collection, you get all 13 episodes chock full of adventure, bad puns, and more. Though there are no extras, every show pits Robin and the gang against Prince John and other bullies and monsters in the forest. Presented in full-screen format I had to wonder if there were parts of scenes that may have benefited from a wide-screen approach.
Though the special effects and fight choreography wasn’t the best, I felt in most cases that the core set of characters – Robin, Marion, Little John, and the Friar – really held each episode together. Watching with my two daughters, we especially loved Ashton as Little John. Though the character was a bit dim at times, his good-natured approach to life showed in every scene and lightened the mood when necessary.
That said, I’m guessing that the budget for the series was pretty low. If you watch several episodes back to back you’ll notice many cut scenes were used again and again, such as watching a group of Prince John’s men crossing over the same river multiple times in multiple episodes.
And the “magic” used throughout the series, from magic arrows and armor to illusions of dragons, was quite low quality. I couldn’t tell if it was an early use of computer-generated graphics or not, but it looks quite outdated now. You can see an example of this from the episode “Robin and the Golden Arrow”.
I did find it odd that though the first season cast had Anna Galvin as Marion, the image on the cover of the DVD features the cast from season two, which had Barbara Griffin in the role. The lack of extras on the DVDs was a bit disappointing as well. I was hoping to see some of the behind-the-scenes action between the cast and crew more along the lines of the Hercules series on DVD (the first time), which included at least a few features.
I have to admit we had a good time watching Robin and his merry men. If you’re looking for another take on the Robin Hood legend, be sure to check out The New Adventures of Robin Hood at the WB shop.
This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.
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