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Heroic Hercules, the Fair Amazon Xena, and Kidney Pie

Entertainment At Home

June 1997

Scanned by Roger

Hercules is not bad, and the show is entertaining enough,
but the real knockout punch of Universal's Action Pack comes with
Xena: Warrior Princess, starring Lucy Lawless.



In these dark and desperate times, when a Chris Farley movie lurks moistly around every corner, America searches for a hero. But does it have to be Kevin Sorbo? 'Fraid so.

Sorbo, a meaty, affable beefsteak of a man, has come to kick butt and chew ambrosia—and he's all out of ambrosia. Sorbo stars as Hercules, the goofy demigod who, according to the legends of those original weirdoes the ancient Greeks, killed the Nemean lion and the Hydra; captured the savage bull of King Minos of Crete; fetched the golden apples of Hesperides; and a bunch of other crap.

Frankly, I think each and every ancient Greek had a one-hitter stashed in his toga. I hope some stoner from our era sits down in a haze and writes down the legends of Pluthomene, who rode into Gasthamena and took the dreaded lock of Platheran from Gal-gothem in the time of Oisfkjin; and then every single school kid 2,000 years from now will have to read his cannabis-fueled ramblings day in and day out, a ruler poised over their tender knuckles just waiting to strike should they confuse the Golden Yahmanian with the Fleece of Thartuniam!

Hercules: The Legendary Journeys is part of the Universal Action Pack, a pack that used to include the Greg Evigan vehicle, Tek Wars, which was written by William Shatner. (Yup, he wrote 'em—no doubt in my mind or anyone else's.) In my opinion, when the Action Pack hit full swing, it was quite comparable to a nice six-pack of Trappist Ale or a good Doppel Bock. But now, with Tek Wars gone,

The Action Pack is like a half-finished six-pack of Red, White and Blue or Red Grape Malt Duck. All the same, Hercules remains extremely popular. The show's popularity derives in large part, I think, from the charisma of Kevin Sorbo, who, to my eyes, looks something like a mesomorphic Todd Rundgren, or perhaps a beefy Steve Perry, lead singer of Journey. Perhaps it's the hair, but he doesn't so much look like a hero bent on righting wrongs as he does a guy wearing animal-print Zubaz cruising around Glendale in his van on a quest for used stereo gear.
Obviously, the show's partial mission is to update the legend; to make it palatable to men and women who shop for Joe Weider products at General Nutrition Centers; to appeal to your average Joe at the mall buying a loaded baker over at One Potato Two; to keep the machinist in his chair drinking Mickey's Big Mouths for one full hour each week.

In this role, Sorbo excels. The ladies—and the guys I'm told—seem to like him. Hundreds of websites dedicate their pages to him; he's on the cover of magazines; he's starring in an upcoming movie; and he was recently seen on the cover of TV Guide, looking every bit as though he'd just been pan fried by Martin Yan. I've never understood why you have to take a perfectly good muscle guy and cover him with canola oil. (All right, settle down. I meant it innocently enough.) So does Kevin Sorbo live up to the hype? Well, he's not bad, and the show is entertaining enough, if you don't expect much at all—say, if you like Chicago Sons or Nash Bridges. But the real knockout punch of the Action Pack comes with Xena: Warrior Princess, starring Lucy Lawless. It's a lot like Hercules, only with one notable difference—it's not Hercules and his sidekick traveling around New Zealand kicking people's butts; it's Xena and her sidekick traveling around New Zealand kicking people's butts! You see? How much more variety could you want?

Again, they've found a perfectly appealing lead in Lawless. The men like her, and the ladies seem to like her, too. Me, I think she's wonderful. But, right or wrong, I feel nervous around any woman who can bench-press me. This is not to deny Lawless her very obvious femininity. Rather, it's a matter of sheer practicality—I don't want to lose a fight over the remote control and have my mate pin me to the couch and dangle spit in my face until I promise to change it to The Preacher's Wife, even though I am in the middle of watching McLintock! for only the second time that night. (I realize the foregoing paragraph serves only to illustrate the sad reality that most men believe deep down that all women—even those they see on television—constitute potential mates.)

My sad prejudices aside, Xena is an okay way to spend an hour, provided your expectations aren't too high and you like Men Behaving Badly or Jag.

Naturally, the successes of Hercules: The Legendary Journeys and Xena: Warrior Princess were bound to inspire others. My favorite copycat (or "otherly inspired" show) is Sin-bad, starring Zen Gesner, George Buza, Jacqueline Collen, Tim Pro-gosh, Oris Erhuero, and other people with silly names. Zen Gesner is Sin-bad, and again, he looks not so much like a mythical hero as he does Jack Wagner in a turban. But the premise is shaky to begin with. I mean, Sin-bad is funny, and certainly he was great in Houseguest and First Kid, but basing an action series on him seems silly—especially when you've got a skinny white guy named Zen playing him.

The press releases tell me that Gesner was one of the first Americans to be admitted into the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art. Oh, great—a man named Zen Gesner, who looks like Christopher Atkins without the pooka shells, is our ambassador to the hallowed halls of British stage acting. They send us Sir Anthony Hopkins, and we give them an updated Lance Kerwin.

Still, we're shipping them episode after episode of ludicrous action shows, and they're eating them up as though they were blood pudding or toad-in-the-hole or some other creamed organ meat with a silly name. I say pass the spotted dick and turn on Hercules.

Michael J. Nelson, E@H's satellite surfer and a Home Theater contributor, is the host and head writer for Mystery Science Theater 3000.