Robin Hood: Season One
Looks like the BBC has gone WB.
I first checked out the British network’s new reincarnation of the medieval freedom fighter when the series called simply Robin Hood debuted on BBC America this spring… and I immediately checked out after that one episode. I have very fond memories of the 1980s British series Robin of Sherwood (also now on DVD and currently clogging up my Netflix queue), but I was determined not to let that interfere with my enjoyment of this new series. And that didn’t happen at all: it turns out that this new series, with its unwillingness to commit to either solemnity or silliness and its mostly inexperienced actors struggling with bad writing, is more than enough on its own to interfere with the enjoyment of it. Thanks to the wonder of DVD (the set releases June 5; buy it at Amazon), I’ve now seen way more than that one episode, and my initial reaction has only been confirmed and strengthened.
The familiar story of 12th-century nobleman Robin of Locksley returning from the Crusades to battle oppression and corruption in his home shire of Nottingham, England, now ruled with an iron fist by a villainous sheriff, spreads out over 13 episodes across five discs, and there’s very little fresh or exciting about it. Oh, attempts — and rather desperate, obvious ones at that — are made to inject some sparkle via the pretty, young cast, but Jonas Armstrong, as Robin, and Lucy Griffiths, as Marian, are better up to the task of looking good than at engendering much sympathy or even simply interest in their characters. Not much help is offered by the tedious scripts, which vacillate from trying to invoke contemporary concerns — the cartoonishly evil sheriff (Keith Allen: 24 Hour Party People) tells the fine folk of Nottingham that he is waging a “war on terror” against Robin — to chucking in anachronistic “jokes” and Matrix-style martial arts.
Better if the series had wholeheartedly embraced the full-on goofiness of a Xena than this strained mishmash… and oh, yeah, Robin needs to be less of a dreary prig if the show has any hope of being less than the featherweight nothing it is now. The only truly intriguing character is the sheriff’s lieutenant, Guy of Gisborne, who commits some truly heinous crimes yet actively desires redemption for them; Richard Armitage, who’s not the tender would-be WBer of his younger castmates, makes him a truly conflicted and thoroughly fascinating bad guy. But then, the bad guys always do have all the best lines, don’t they? (DVD extras include multiple featurettes on production design, audio commentaries by cast and crew on four episode, and more.)
Hex: The Complete First Season
I figured I’d be getting more of the same kind of adolescent nonsense from Hex. I mean, look: It’s a bunch of impossibly gorgeous 20something “teenagers” hanging out at a British boarding school and getting into trouble and into bed with one another. Oh, and there’s magic thrown in. I figured it’s gotta be Harry Potter if Aaron Spelling got his grubby hands on it. But I’m delighted to be wrong: this is more Carrie, with all of Stephen King’s dark appreciation for the secret powers of women, meeting Harry Potter with all of J.K. Rowling’s subversive grasp on the dangers of adolescence. Grim and shocking and thrillingly unpredictable — do NOT read the episode summaries in the DVD package, also out June 5 (buy at Amazon), if you don’t want the story spoiled for you — this is supernatural serial drama that’s intense and addictive and not quite like anything on American TV. (It aired here on BBC America, but it’s a production of the British network Sky One.)
Cassie (Christina Cole: What a Girl Wants) is a shy but talented student at Medenham, the posh boarding school that used to be the manor of, centuries earlier, a slaveholding lord and his crazy wife who was into the voodoo of the Negro servants. When Cassie finds some doodads left behind by the bewitched manor lady, she awakens her own magical powers just as — metaphor alert — her own sexuality is blossoming. Her “dyke in shining armor” roommate, Thelma (Jemima Rooper: The Black Dahlia), would like to help Cassie with that, but alas, Cassie, for all that she adores her best friend, swings the other way… like toward the demon Azazeal (Michael Fassbender: 300), who shows up and makes her life, ahem, a living hell.
Where events develop from that I’ll let you discover — there’s 13 episodes over three discs — and I can’t recommend enough that you do. As delicately realized as it is terrifying, Hex is a rich, subtle, enchanted tapestry. (DVD extras include a making-of documentary and deleted scenes, and though the show dates from only 2004, audio and video have been digitally remastered.)