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Hit & Myth
Scans contributed by Sally Nabil
Xena: Warrior Princess has been setting young men's hearts aflame for several years now. After a successful spin-off series from the equally enjoyable Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, it was only a matter of time before the lady made her way to British screens. Now she can be frequently found on both Channel 5 and SKY battling legendary monsters and sword-wielding maniacs. Nice work if you can get it...
It's not hard to see why the show is so popular, after all it combines classic sword-fights, attractive characters and a quiver-load of one liners shot into both comedic and dramatic situations. Here is a show that doesn't take itself too seriously. Swash, buckle and let the subtext take care of itself. If Highlander and The Raven are satisfying meals, then Xena (and Hercules) are equally attractive desserts.
One look at some of the episode titles gives an idea of the way the show is pitched to audiences: A Comedy of Eros, Athens City Academy Of The Performing Bards, Hooves And Harlots. But these lighter episodes are balanced with darker more serious observations about friendship and love.
A lot of the show's success can also be attributed to Lucy Lawless, an actress who quickly got the balance of the character right. On a physical level we weren't expected to believe that a slight, willowy woman could beat whole armies. Lawless was muscly without been unfeminine and physically fit enough to carry the demands of a role which required her to be physically exerting herself for a majority of the action hour. At the same time she had to act and make the character as interesting as the action taking place.
Renee O'Connor plays Gabrielle, her friend, companion and something of a conscience - reminding the Warrior Princess not to venture down the dark roads which Xena originally travelled. Xena, if you want to look deeper into the show, is all about a character trying to redeem herself.... but who says a girl can't have fun at the same time! Some media attention has pointed out that the characters' relationship may be more than platonic. In many other shows such insinuations are shrugged off - the producers and actors letting fans have their own fantasies whilst insisting that there was no intention of including that idea in the original thinking.
However, with this show there weren't the usual brush-offs for such theories. There is no denying that both Xena and Gabrielle are close. Cleverly the show hasn't denied this aspect, simply saying that there is nothing wrong in any loving relationship. If the characters are close... so what? Whether as sisters or partners, their chemistry works because we believe in their willingness to die (walk through Hell and back - literally in some cases) for each other. There is nothing obvious to actually titillate audiences and nothing explicit or definite. Any further discussion on that aspect of the show seems redundant.
Xena was, originally, something of a risky venture. There was an in-built audience from the Hercules show, but putting a female lead in a hi-visibility venture meant a leap of faith from the producers (it shouldn't have... but that's the nature of TV and demographic-wary executives). The first female 'superhero' series since Wonder Woman immediately proved itself to be something that would attract the male audience (for fairly obvious reasons) but an equally vocal female fan-base who loved the fact that the damsel-in distress factor was being firmly put on the back-burner. Xena is as likely to plead with a guy to save her from an untimely death as Hannibal Lector is to go vegetarian! This lady took on the men at their own game and kicked serious mythical butt. The first series did well with TV audiences and critics, though the second series was nearly brought to a resounding halt when Lawless was injured when she fell from a horse. Quick script re-writes allowed a story-arc in which Xena switched bodies with her arch nemesis, Callisto. It wasn't a perfect solution, but it allowed the series to progress through an important time and in the end it thrived.
While shows such as The X-Files have used their Canadian base of cities and countries, the producers of both Xena and Hercules have utilised the New Zealand climate to similar effect. It's warmer climate gives the show a softer, more lush feel to the proceedings - allowing it to be used for a whole range of mythical and real locations. The Xena time-period is a flexible one with her meeting both Gods and famous historical figures (the latest series will see her cross paths with Julius Caesar). The guest stars are also well used, with recurring characters such as the hapless Joxer (Ted Raimi, actually Executive Producer Sam's brother, excellent as the clumsy but well-meaning warrior-wannabe). Bruce Campbell (Evil Dead/Brisco County Jnr) another Sam Raimi favourite, has made regular appearances in both Hercules and Xena as Autolycus, a thief with a well-disguised heart of gold - but equally likely to leave scruples scattered all over the floor should the occasion warrant it.
The show has been marketed well and has been a huge international success. Its following in Britain is substantial - despite the fact that Channel 5's transmissions are still not perfect and SKY is only obtainable by satellite subscription. The BBC and ITV networks are probably kicking themselves. Given the lightness of touch and quality of both comedy and dramatic performances, Hercules and Xena are liable to run for the expected six-season runs, though it will be interesting to see how the writers handle Lawless's reported pregnancy. In the time of heroes and monsters... anything is possible!
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