Xena: Warrior Princess 4.10 – The Key to the Kingdom

Comedy Xena is a million, billion times better than angsty Xena. This was completely wonderful. This time, Autolycus teams up with Joxer and Meg the Barmaid to heist a fabled key that will point the way to an equally fabled treasure. But Meg double-crosses everybody for quite surprising reasons. All is forgiven, but nobody gets what they want in this beautiful farce. Poor Joxer. It’s been three years and the poor mook still hasn’t found a single fighting move that works a drop.

We all loved this to pieces. It was ridiculous and incredibly funny. Renee O’Connor isn’t in this one; I guess she had the week off. And our kid, who just about lost his mind laughing when our inept heroic trio decide they need to feed a baby “strong cheese and pickles,” is proving he’s becoming a very quick study in the rules of television. Ten seconds into the story and guards are moving a great big ceramic pig – big enough for someone to hide inside – into a room full of treasure. “Ah, a King of Thieves episode,” he observed.

Xena: Warrior Princess 4.6 – A Tale of Two Muses

I really thought our son would have enjoyed tonight’s silly episode more than he did. For a while, he seemed to be liking it. Xena, Gabrielle, and Autolycus get together to bring a little Footloose to a town of religious extremists who have banned dancing. The King of Thieves is only in this under protest until he learns that the scheme is to “humiliate this horse’s ass” of a town magistrate. I guess you could make the argument that the humiliation is left to our imagination, and so we never really get the chance to enjoy his comeuppance, but the real tragedy for the kid is that there was far too much music and dancing. His loss; there’s a dance scene in the middle of the story set to a terrific tune called “Let the Spirit Move Me” sung by Gillian Iliana Waters that the grownups really enjoyed.

Xena: Warrior Princess 3.20 – Vanishing Act

Bruce Campbell’s back for the second week in a row as Autolycus, but this time it’s Lucy Lawless who steals the show. At Autolycus’s direction, because they’re pulling a heist his way, Xena goes undercover as a fence looking for a stolen golden statue. She invents this accent… I guess it’s kind of a brassy Queens accent? Like Fran Drescher or Barbara Nichols? It’s really amusing, but it also took me out of the show completely. I know full well that Lucy Lawless can play lots of different characters. I’m a little less sold that this is among Xena’s talents. I’d believe it a little more if they’d have brought Xena’s lookalike Meg in for this caper.

The other real problem I had with this one is that there’s a really fine twist in the story, and I liked the way that Autolycus is casing this castle and getting ideas. You can see the gears in his head turning, and you can see that our heroes are up to something, only to get the rug pulled out from under them. This is wonderful, and they should have done much more with this, but it’s almost like they were running short this week and needed to beef up the running time with a long scene where Xena convinces Autolycus not to kill their opponent. It’s a preachy scene, terribly out of place, and it totally derails the much better material around it.

Our son was much happier about it than I was. The Autolycus episodes remain among my favorites, and it’s certainly watchable despite my misgivings, but I’m afraid this was certainly his weakest installment so far. We’re also curious how many more times they’re going to use this harbor set. They’ve tried to redress it, but not quite hard enough. I’m pretty sure they used it as the harbor in Jack of All Trades a couple of years later, too.

Xena: Warrior Princess 3.19 – Tsunami

Sadly, for those of us who go around getting screencaps to illustrate our silly blogs, there’s a huge missed opportunity here. Bruce Campbell is back as Autolycus, and one of the other guest stars is Angela Dotchin. Two years later, they’d star together in the silly and delightful Jack of All Trades but they are never in the same two-shot together.

The episode is a Xena take on The Poseidon Adventure, only with a much smaller boat turned upside down and thrown underwater after Mount Etna erupts and causes a massive tidal wave. What happens is Disaster Movie 101, with a collection of people who need to be taken down a notch, and have their courage built up, and have their rocky relationship reaffirmed. Our son wasn’t too wild about it; the title of the episode had him ready for the tsunami and acted like he’d figured out a great big secret when the tidal wave capsizes the ship. But like Poseidon, the disaster happens very early, and the kid was restless after that.

I never want to linger on special effects when they’re unconvincing. It’s particularly unfair to hold a low-budget show like Xena‘s occasionally dated computer-generated effects against it. I believe that you should praise a show that does the best it can with what it has to work with, and with that in mind, this episode is actually extremely impressive. The tsunami and the underwater miniature work was a huge undertaking for this series, and it only looks dated, never really bad. You can tell exactly what they were trying to do in each individual shot. And doing about half of the episode in an upside-down water-filled set can’t have been easy. My hat’s off to the director and the crew of this one. The script may not have broken any new ground, but it must have been a massive headache to make, and they did an excellent job with the resources they had available.

Xena: Warrior Princess 3.8 – The King of Assassins

So how bad was that two-parter we just finished? Bad enough that Marie decided to make a grocery run rather than watch the next episode. And she missed out, because “The King of Assassins” is triumphantly silly and fun. Autolycus is back, and he meets Joxer for the first time, and thinks that he’s somebody else: Joxer’s really mean – and competent – brother, the assassin Jett. So with Lucy Lawless off filming other episodes, it’s up to Gabrielle, Autolycus, and Joxer to somehow save Cleopatra, who’s in town for largely unclear but plot-convenient reasons, from being killed.

I chuckled all the way through the thing, but the kid fell apart laughing. Jett torments Joxer through such tried-and-true methods as wet willies and hanging wedgies, and you thought they hadn’t been invented yet. Turns out Joxer is the black sheep of his family; everybody else is a real villain. Gina Torres is amusing as Cleopatra, though strangely the character doesn’t appear again. Torres had a different character in Hercules called Nebula who did make several appearances there. Xena shows up again at the end for a mostly played-for-laughs brawl that had our son howling. She just can’t leave this gang alone for a minute, apparently.

Xena: Warrior Princess 2.13 – The Quest

You can view most television through a variety of lenses. Me, I seem to most like fresh takes on adventure teevee tropes, light humor, and great actors. I think the presentation is often more important than the plot, which is a good thing in the case of “The Quest,” because this silly hour has a lot of holes and a lot of problems. This one introduces a new villain named Velasca, an Amazon who’s all ham and cleavage, and when Gabrielle takes a detour through Amazon country en route to returning Xena’s body to her home, she… wait, it’s really dumb. Let me start over.

The Amazons intercept Gabrielle because they want to give Xena a ceremonial funeral-by-fire. Gabrielle declines, because Xena wished to be buried next to her brother. Gabrielle’s not in her right mind anyway; she keeps asking why Xena “left” her, when we saw last time that about 1500 pounds of lumber pancaked Xena into a tree and she didn’t seem to have a lot of choice in the matter. The Amazons, including old pal Ephiny (Danielle Cormack), explain that Velasca (Melinda Clarke) has stepped into a power vacuum that Gabrielle, who was made a princess about a year ago, can settle. So she decides to become their queen and let ’em torch Xena’s corpse without worrying about it too much, and then she changes her mind. Velasca starts screaming about how Gabrielle has betrayed the Amazons, and about 90% of them agree and go nuts about it. Lady, she changed funeral plans, she didn’t sell your secrets to the Romans.

So yes, the whole thing is baked in stupid, and yet it’s still hugely entertaining because Bruce Campbell’s wonderful character Autolycus, the King of Thieves, is back in town. Xena’s spirit has taken over his body in order to get her own corpse to some death-cheating stuff, but she doesn’t want Gabrielle to know what she’s up to for some reason that’s never explained either… even Michael Hurst, who played the sidekick character on Hercules, shows up to give Gabrielle about the legal limit of condolence hugs before it gets creepy.

Perhaps it’s wrongheaded of me to look at this predominantly female-driven hour and say that’s only worth watching when Bruce Campbell is onscreen, but I’m afraid it’s true. Even the hour’s centerpiece moment, when astral-plane Xena and astral-plane Gabrielle share a great big yes-they-did-ladies, they-really-did kiss, is anchored by it happening between real-world Autolycus and real-world Gabrielle. I don’t think that’s right; this episode should have been tight and sensible and watchable even before Bruce Campbell got anywhere near the story, and the producers should have had the guts, once Xena was restored by the cheat-death Macguffin, to let the ladies lock lips without letting any man’s body get between them.

Jack of All Trades 2.8 – Seventy Brides for One Brother

Jack of All Trades wrapped up with another cringe-inducing episode which really isn’t suitable for nine year-olds to watch in the company of their folks, so let’s just take a minute to celebrate that amazing opening sequence. I think it’s such a shame these have gone by the wayside over the years. It was nominated for an Emmy, back when there were enough opening sequences to warrant giving an Emmy to one of them, and features a fantastically catchy little march sung by a band of hard-drinking fellers in a tavern. Our son says it’s the best TV opening ever – “even better than Thunderbirds!” – and while I wouldn’t put it in my own top five personally, it’s certainly up there. And what is my top five? Why, it’s:

Department S
Kolchak: The Night Stalker
Man in a Suitcase
Strange Report

The show got cancelled before it could get any smuttier. Apparently some stations complained that they’d rather have one series on for one hour instead of two sharing the Back 2 Back Action Pack slot. Jack‘s companion series, Cleopatra 2525, was more easily adapted to one-hour adventures so it got the nod to continue, and then production on it ended just two months later. That put an end to Renaissance Pictures’ cycle of TV shows produced in New Zealand for a while. Seven years later, they made another program there called Legend of the Seeker which I’d never heard of, but in the modern world of streaming, there’s really not much call for direct-to-syndication programming anymore, is there?

Jack of All Trades 2.7 – Hamnesia

My son and my wife groaned when they realized this was an amnesia episode; my wife then grumbled when Jack decides to take advantage of Emilia’s amnesia by telling her that she’s a prank-loving party animal. But the joke is on him, because she hears “sociopathic wild child” and decides to raise more hell in pursuit of a missing deed than Jack can babysit.

Trying to follow a clue about hogs, they end up at the Drunken Pig. Emilia starts a bar fight that our hero can’t risk trying to win, so he gets clobbered and smacked and has a chair broken across his back. It’s a delightful scene that reminded me of how Bruce Campbell had spent most of the 1980s getting the stuffing knocked out of him because Sam Raimi and Robert Tapert couldn’t afford a stuntman. Later, he goes face-first in the mud. You just know there was a double on set quietly telling the director “I can do that, you know,” but it’s okay, Bruce can handle anything.

So the kid loved it and laughed a lot, but we’ve been watching a Looney Tunes short or two a couple of times a week and tonight one of them was the star attraction. Most of these are good for a few chuckles (although some have aged rather better than the ones Robert McKimson directed), but tonight, the legendary “Rabbit Fire” came up. Our buddies Kelley and Matt showed him this a while back and it’s one of his favorites. His eyes lit up when he saw the title card and he shouted “duck season, wabbit season!” He usually likes the main feature more than the pre-show cartoon, but while he loved Jack losing the bar fight, “Rabbit Fire” is in a class by itself.

Jack of All Trades 2.6 – One, Two, Three: Give Me Lady Liberty!

Verne Troyer’s final appearance as Napoleon is the Thanksgiving episode – it originally aired in most US markets the week of November 18, 2000 – and it’s as anachronistic as ever. One of the Thanksgiving traditions is a football game. There was a Detroit in 1801 – the city celebrated its centennial that year – but the Lions were still 129 years in the future. The kid adored the football game and laughed throughout it. It is, after all, just a few minutes of silly stunts. In the real world, he likes the Titans because all his pals do, but he can’t make three quarters without losing interest completely.

Much earlier in the blog, I’d planned to show our son Planet of the Apes, but I thought better of it; he’s not as gentle as he was anymore – he’s a big NINE YEAR-OLD now – but when I had it penciled in back in 2017, he would have hated it. It is a pretty rough movie in places. I punted it down to later this year, and he’s certain to enjoy it more than he would have then. But sadly, I sailed it right past the one yard line where it would have been perfect. I wish we’d have seen it a couple of weeks ago instead of Godzilla vs. Monster Zero, because there’s a delicious little Apes callback right at the end, with Verne Troyer in the Charlton Heston role. Ah, well, we will look at Apes later this year and he’ll get the gag.

Jack of All Trades 2.5 – Croquey in the Pokey

I said to myself, “Wow, I really hope tonight’s episode isn’t as inappropriate as some of the others,” and the very first shot is a close-up of guest star Ingrid Park’s cleavage. The almost funny thing is that – probably because we’re missing the Silver Scream Spook Show, which has been postponed for several more weeks – I had a fancy the other day to introduce him to Elvira’s Movie Macabre. This is while knowing perfectly well that, as amusing as I find her, eight-going-on-nine is far too young for some of her comedy. Then I said “Hey, what about that Mistress of the Dark movie she made”… and then I remembered the boobs-n-tassles finale of that movie. So no.

So the episode opened with that shot and the devil opened up a very special cell for me for when I get done with this mortal coil forty or fifty years from now, but then the gods of inappropriate comedy smiled on me and said that was enough for one half hour, and the rest of the show was perfectly kid-acceptable. At one point, the Daring Dragoon smacks a prison guard face-first into an alarm bell several times. Finishing with him, our hero says “That’s using your head,” and the kid couldn’t see straight for laughing so hard.

Jack of All Trades 2.4 – The Morning After

Verne Troyer returns as Napoleon in this one, which is back to being pretty inappropriate, but oh well. This time he schemes to rule the world by way of a wine with a powerful hypnotizing drug. One bottle of this as a goodwill gift to Thomas Jefferson and the White House’ll be Bonaparte’s new summer home! Also, Napoleon has a Gatling gun and the Daring Dragoon has a bulletproof cape and Jack and Emilia wake up naked in bed together without any memory of the night before. Wince, wait for a swordfight, repeat.