Xena: Warrior Princess 4.17 – The Play’s the Thing

Sadly, this seems to be the last of the comedy episodes of Xena that we’ll be looking at for the blog, as the next two appear to be at least semi-serious and I’ve decided against going on to season five. This one prompted a mid-show pause while we explained the plot of The Producers to our son, as Gabrielle finds herself and her dire scroll, “A Message of Peace,” targeted by a Max Bialystock-esque impresario. That helped him know where this one was going – sadly, the climax is actually just another fight scene instead of something really creative – but his favorite gags were Joxer trying to hang theater posters and bashing his thumb with a hammer.

My favorite gags, in order, were the impresario giving a very, very tiny scroll to potential clients because business cards hadn’t been invented yet, Sophocles’s opening-night competition turning out to be the ancient Greek version of a Ziegfeld Follies, and two of the actresses in this mess thanking our heroines thusly: “The two of you made me realize something deep down inside myself that I guess I always knew but I didn’t dare admit. I’m a thespian.” Curtain.

Xena: Warrior Princess 4.12 – If the Shoe Fits…

So I was saying that comedy Xena is a million, billion times better than angsty Xena. Here’s more wonderfully fun evidence. This time out, it’s a hilariously fractured fairy tale. While escorting a very ugly warlord to whatever local assizes is in charge of justice in this land, Xena, Gabrielle, and Joxer pick up a runaway seven year-old who doesn’t like her evil stepmother and has found refuge with Aphrodite, who claims to be the little girl’s fairy godsmother. So now they have two charges in tow and pass the time telling the kid some slightly off-kilter versions of Cinderella.

This is one of the goofiest hours of anything we’ve watched, and we all chuckled throughout. The story is a complete scream, with ridiculous costumes and accents, gender-flipping depending on who’s doing the telling, three incredibly ugly men becoming even more incredibly ugly stepsisters, and Ted Raimi and his remarkably obvious double doing some kind of Saturday Night Fever-Vogue dance at the ball with some anachronistic sound effects.

So yes, I enjoyed this one tremendously. I liked it even before they started storytelling, because it harkens back to season two’s triumphant “A Day in the Life” with Xena thoughtlessly destroying Gabrielle’s things and taking her for granted and putting them in a bad mood. This time out, Xena can’t find a rope to tie up and gag the warlord, and Gabrielle’s having a shower, so the warrior princess just takes Gabrielle’s green top and shreds it for binding.

I don’t know why I enjoy it so much when these two forget how much they love each other and get petty, but I really do. Later on, Gabrielle uses her story to punctuate that somebody uses this casual theft as a defense mechanism to avoid talking about intimacy, which is wonderful. Later still, the warlords, now stepbrothers, are made to say “Check out his social skills!” which is even more wonderful. It’s a fine, fine hour of TV. And they all lived happily ever after.

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 4.3 – A Family Affair

We’d crossed our fingers that Gabrielle had survived the end of season three, and she did, but we also crossed our fingers that Hope died, and not only did she live, she gave birth to a big monster covered with spikes. There’s honestly not a lot to this story; Xena and Joxer head back to Gabrielle’s hometown, hoping that she somehow survived and made her way there. She did, but so did Hope, who got there first and is pretending to be Gabrielle, and there’s a monster in a cave that comes out at night to eat people.

This is definitely a show that blew all its budget on the location shoot and wire-fu of the two-part opening and is down to a small cast and very familiar sets for this one. We’re watching fewer than half the episodes and I swear we’ve seen that bridge at least twice before. The beast is quite well-designed and the animatronic face is excellent, but the spikes are comically rubber and bouncy in an Ultraman monster way. It ends with a deeply, deeply cheesy coda with our heroines talking about how much they missed and feel lost without each other. Our son was reasonably impressed until their conversation, which he dismissed as corny. I think the writers needed to end on something with some emotional heft, after all the angst of season three, so you can dismiss the criticism as coming from the mouth of a monster-crazed nine year-old boy. Fighting, dopplegangers, and skeletons: that’s what he’s here for.

Hope might really be dead this time. Fingers crossed, again.

Xena: Warrior Princess 3.21-22 – Sacrifice (parts one and two)

We’ve been navigating around and occasionally dipping into an arc story this year. A demon-god called Dahak gave Gabrielle a magical pregnancy, and she gave birth to a powerful, evil, demigod daughter called Hope, and some ugly stuff happened that we missed, and then Hope is reborn, played by Renee O’Connor in a dual role. She even says “Hello, Mother,” just like Morena Baccarin would keep saying a few years later in the last season of Stargate SG-1. And hey, stay tuned to this blog for more on the subject of babies who grow up into adults in just a few days, because this trope never gets old. Really.

Since this arc has caused nothing but grief and despair and our heroines snapping at each other, I decided we’d power through both parts tonight. Our son hated it completely, mainly because Hudson Leick shows up as Callisto, and he can’t stand her. I thought there were a couple of good moments, but no real surprises. I had trouble swallowing the insane number of Dahak followers who have sprouted from out of nowhere in this region in what seems to have been maybe six or so months, and wonder how the assizes of the ancient world are going to deal with this many freaks needing prison time and/or execution for all the attacks on villages in part two of this story. The real problem is that Ares’s motives are so insanely unclear that he seems to switch sides every time he’s on screen. At one point, he sends a warlord running to build the largest army the world has ever seen to attack Hope and Dahak, and this plot is completely abandoned without comment.

It ends with Hope dead – I think I believe that’ll stick – and Gabrielle dead – pretty sure that won’t – and Callisto dead. I’d have to think about risking any money on that one sticking. The poor kid squirmed through both hours just ready for it to end. I try to judge with an open mind and a kind heart, but really, while the individual hours were mostly made quite well and the comedies featured a few good gags, this season was just too full of angst. I hope that when they get Gabrielle back from the afterlife, season four’s a lot less heavy.

We’ll look at some selections from season four of Xena: Warrior Princess in February. Stay tuned!

Xena: Warrior Princess 3.18 – Fins, Femmes and Gems

Weirdly, the first two seasons of Xena had given us mostly lighthearted action-adventure stories, punctuated by some light comedies. Season three seems to be all angst, heavy and unpleasant, and the comedies are completely over-the-top and wonderfully ridiculous. Boy, do we ever prefer the comedies. This one features the return of Alexandra Tydings as Aphrodite. Xena, Gabrielle, and Joxer are on a mission to intercept three bandits who have stolen the Northern Star – eh, magic – for Aphrodite. She waylays them with an obsession spell. Joxer seems to become a monkey-man after the hero of an old legend, Gabrielle becomes obsessed with herself, and Xena, for the second time this year, really just wants to go fishing.

Xena is much, much better at fishing than Jack O’Neill. For starters, she doesn’t waste time on ponds without any fish in them. But she’s really interested in one particular fish that’s been the one that got away for ages, and she has a complex scheme to use a kite to catch it, with a hook baited with a lock of Gabrielle’s hair.

Honestly, the whole thing is a riot again, but as hilarious as the ladies are, I’m afraid that the episode’s editor let Joxer steal the show. Having convinced himself he is Tarzan, or the ancient world’s equivalent, he swings from the trees to abduct Gabrielle, and calls on the animals of the Greek forest to defend them from Xena. What happens next is a hysterical montage of animals who were nowhere freaking anywhere close to a forest, in Greece or anywhere else, when they were filmed, and the episode suddenly and deliberately turns into one of those no-budget African adventure movies you’d catch on UHF channels in the 1970s that didn’t have access to much library footage.

Nobody found this as funny as I did, but that’s in part because one time about thirty years ago, I overheard two fellows debating whether Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom was the greatest television show ever made, because it starred Marlon Perkins as – and I quote – “this seventy year-old guy who beats up giraffes and shit.” Show me beat-up library footage of a lion on the savanna, especially when it flat out does not belong in the narrative, and it just takes me back.

Xena: Warrior Princess 3.17 – Forget Me Not

Well, I knew it was a clip show going into this, but it turned out to be a very specific clip show, recapping all the bad memories and unhappiness that Gabrielle racked up between episodes 4 and 16 of this season. We’d watched all but one of the installments this drew from, and didn’t much enjoy going back over them again. The only interesting bit was expanding a scene from part one of “The Debt” to clarify that Xena had not taken the slow boat to China in that story. Gabrielle, broken-hearted from jealousy, actually asked Ares for the favor of speeding her to China ahead of Xena, and she’s been lying to herself and trying to forget it ever since. I thought it was quite neat the way that they extended that scene, but nothing else here was worth rehashing.

Xena: Warrior Princess 3.10 – The Quill is Mightier…

Another Lawless-lite comedy episode, this one had us all chuckling quite a lot. Ares manipulates Aphrodite into doing something about Gabrielle and all the mythmaking that she’s doing with Xena, and Aphrodite blesses/curses her by enchanting her new scroll. Anything that the bard writes upon it – or that anybody writes upon it – comes true. But the scroll is incredibly literal, and pretty soon drinks are on the house and it starts raining money over a town, and both gods lose their powers and really come to regret this intrusion. And Gabrielle has three doubles as well now, only they don’t wear any clothes and go-go dance.

Well, the grown-ups chuckled and enjoyed a couple of good belly laughs, but the kid lost his mind roaring. When Xena finally shows up for the climax, Gabrielle having sent her away for a remarkably successful fishing trip, I thought the kid was going to pass out. The onlookers’ grumbling about whether Xena is using a squid or an octopus as a bolas is easy to miss under the weight of all the rest of the gags, but I’m glad that I caught it.

Xena: Warrior Princess 3.9 – Warrior… Priestess… Tramp

Whatever I might have been planning to say about this hilarious episode, which introduces a third double for Xena, got sidetracked by our son’s insightful criticism: “That was a really good script that perfectly fit the plot. It was like a cup of milk that was just the right size for a cookie that was just the right size.” Also, he laughed his fool head off when Joxer comes to the “rescue” by jumping through a random window for some reason or other.

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 2.22 – A Comedy of Eros

Karl Urban makes a brief return as Cupid in the very silly second season finale. Cupid thinks that his son is asleep, but he’s just playing possum while Mom and Dad are tied up. The little sprog gets a quiver of arrows and a bow and goes out to wreak havoc. Soon, Xena is head over heels for her old enemy Draco (from episode one), Gabrielle is all aswoon over Joxer, and Draco is in love with Gabrielle. Wacky hijinks ensue.

Our son certainly laughed his fool head off, though I think several of the gags were a little too mysterious for him. Unfortunately, I missed out on one explanation. I told him what the phrase “comedy of errors” means before we started, but didn’t explain what “Eros” meant, so not even the pun made sense. It actually only just struck me that Cupid was the Roman name for Eros. That seems a little odd; the other gods and demigods in this show have the Greek names. But we all enjoyed the tomfoolery and the silliness. I was going to screencap Xena giving herself a cold bath and an even colder scowl to quit thinking about Draco, but I adored her calling him “sweetie” and “cute” and clamping her hands over her mouth, embarrassed that she’s using those words.

Poor Joxer steals the show right at the end. The whammy undone, everybody’s getting ready to call it a night and Gabrielle is dismissive and ridiculous about the mad idea that she’d be in love with Joxer, who’s been doing the right thing and trying to keep her at arm’s length all day. Even if Joxer didn’t genuinely adore her, he still wants his friends to respect him. Xena shows him some silent support after Gabrielle cluelessly stomped his heart flat, and the bawdy, silly hour ends on a curiously sad note. Poor shmuck.

That’s all for our look at Xena‘s second season, but we’ll look at a selection of third season episodes in the fall. Stay tuned!