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Salon Magazine

29 July 1996

YES, "XENA" DOES RULE

 


And other answers to TV's FAQs

By JOYCE MILLMAN
 

it's summertime, and there's nothing to watch except reruns and the Games of the Nike/Coca-Cola/
AT&T Olympiad. At last, we have the time to answer some of the TV questions that have been piling up in the Salon mailbag.

 

1. Does "Xena" rule, or what?
-- C. Paglia, Philadelphia

Most definitely. This syndicated spinoff from Sam Raimi's "Hercules: The Legendary Journeys" is the perfect antidote to "Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman's" Martha-Stewart-on-the-frontier sanctimony. "Xena: Warrior Princess" is just as anachronistic as "Dr. Quinn" in its portrayal of a strong woman beset by strangely modern dilemmas, but it's infinitely hipper and funnier. "Xena" is the coolest cult fave around, as well as one of the highest-rated shows in first-run syndication.

Like "Hercules," "Xena" takes the comic book tour of ancient Greece. It's a colorful hodge podge of kung fu, pro-social messages, off-the-wall modern colloquial language and, of course, Ray Harryhausen-esque titans, multi-headed snake-beasts and Cyclopses. But, let's be honest here -- nobody's watching "Xena" to brush up on their Greek mythology.

Star Lucy Lawless (honest!) is a strapping, buff, black-haired Amazon poured into a leather bustier and skimpy skirt. Stalking her prey with supreme confidence, scowling under her bangs, Xena looks like one of the big-boned Petersen sisters from the Bangles. Unlike Lynda Carter, TV's "Wonder Woman," Lawless is no prissily made-up beauty queen (also, unlike Carter, her breasts and costume move in the same direction when she runs).

Xena is terrifically surly, and you can't blame her. Her whole village was destroyed by marauders, her brother was killed, she doesn't know who her father is and her barmaid mother doesn't approve of Xena's career path. Xena is as misunderstood a bad girl as Catwoman or Madonna (who must look at Xena's breastplate costume and biceps and drool). Xena used to fight and kill out of anger over her brother's death, but ever since her tryst with that happy-go-lucky dude Herc, she's been trying to use her fighting skills for the good of mankind.

And, man, can she fight! Xena has more martial arts moves in her arsenal than Jackie Chan, and when those don't work she's got her trusty spear, whip and "round killing thing," a razor-sharp discus-like object. Never has a superheroine been allowed to display such enjoyment of the fight -- when she somersaults and kicks her way into battle, Xena ululates like a Middle Eastern woman and she's got a hang time of, like, hours.

Along for the ride is Xena's sidekick, Gabrielle (Renee O'Connor), a young virginal bard seeking excitement. The two have a prickly relationship with single mother/teenage daughter overtones. But let's not put too fine a point on the subtext. The glory of "Xena" is that she can kick the crap out of anybody -- guy, god, goddess, snake-headed monster, whatever. So, yes, "Xena" does rule.

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