Judge David Gutierrez ponders when TV producers will make a slapstick series based on other old myths. I bet Thor would be a great target.
Our reviews of Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, Season Two (published December 15th, 2003), Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, Season Three (published July 21st, 2004), and Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, Season Five (published April 27th, 2005) are also available.
"Well, Iolaus, this is another fine mess you've gotten us into."—Hercules
Never having dipped my toe in the Hercules: The Legendary Journeys pool, I didn't know what was in store. Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, Season Four turned everything I knew about the demi-god on its head and I had a good laugh about it. And this, so soon after my foray into the world of Xena: Warrior Princess.
Facts of the Case
Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, Season Four brings the world more adventures of Hercules (Kevin Sorbo, Andromeda), his best bud Iolaus (Michael Hurst, Power Rangers: Ninja Storm), and their battles with agents of Hera, giants, ne'er do wells, and other unsavory sorts. Herc and Iolaus fight the good fight in a tongue-in-cheek manner. The rub this season is star Kevin Sorbo's medical condition. The producers and writers had a task before them to create a string of shows with Sorbo's limited involvement.
For starters, those unfamiliar with this show ought naught watch Hercules: The Legendary Journeys with the expectation it will chronicle his twelve labors, battle with an indestructible lion, or show him killing his family. This Hercules is one that can take and tell a joke, fights for what's right, and can cut a mean rug.
The show knows it limits and knows where its strengths are. As a director remarks in "Yes, Virginia, There Is a Hercules," "It ain't Shakespeare." It really isn't—it's something else altogether. Those familiar with show will know it's a mixture of humor, overacting, good to downright awful special effects, wire action, and fun.
Unlike sister show Xena: Warrior Princess, the majority of the Hercules episodes are self-contained without any season mega-arc. Perhaps this is due to Sorbo's illness. Still, hat's off to the people behind this season for delivery some strong and inventive episodes.
All 22 episodes are split up over eight discs:
• "Beanstalks and Bad Eggs"
• "Hero's Heart"
• "Regrets. I've Had a Few"
This episode begins a series of episodes featuring less and less of
• "Web of Desire"
• "Stranger in a Strange World"
This episode sets up a world that will be revisited later on in the season
and establishes that a being dying in one reality causes his counterpart in the
alternate reality to die as well.
• "Two Men and a Baby"
Does the actor playing Ruun look familiar? He also plays Young Iolaus. Not a
bad episode, "Prodigal Sister" is heavy on action and more
melodramatic than earlier stints.
• "…And Fancy Free"
• "If I Had a Hammer"
• "Hercules on Trial"
This episode features the intriguing premise of heroic idolatry and what it
means to act indestructible when someone clearly isn't.
• "Medea Culpa"
Chicks always break up the band—even in ancient Greece.
• "Men in Pink"
Best Bit: Bruce Campbell and Michael Hurd as women. It doesn't get much
funnier than that.
• "Armageddon Now"
It's a time travel episode done right that also has the death of a god.
• "Armageddon Now Part Two"
• "Yes, Virginia, There is a Hercules"
The writing staff are played by members of the Hercules cast. What's nifty is seeing the people they're imitating on various interviews with the cast and crew. An extremely clever episode that ventures into postmodernism, the show firmly sets itself with the continuity of Hercules: The Legendary Journeys. I won't spoil it; it'll just have to be watched to be believed. This reflexivity is again employed in the Xena: Warrior Princess episode, "Déjà Vu All Over Again."
I laughed out loud again and again and again at this one. Watch for the
Production Assistant running with the bulls in Spain.
• "One Fowl Day"
• "My Fair Cupcake"
Another great Autolycus episode, Campbell's presence is guaranteed comedy
• "War Wounds"
"War Wounds" is a decent dramatic turn introducing some very cool
The flashback portion of the episode came off as nothing more than
• "Top God"
Okay, enough with the filler already. On the upside, their interpretation of
Apollo as an attention-starved surfer was clever.
"Reunions" finishes an uneven season on a high note, resolving a
problem that has plagued Hercules all his life.
Given the nature of the show, much of its appeal relies on its actors. Kevin Sorbo surprised me. I expected to spend over twenty hours watching the guy who used to steal the cute girls away in high school. Instead, it dawned on me why he's the perfect actor to play Hercules: He's instantly likeable, has presence, and comes across as someone who would wrestle a hydra to rescue a cat trapped in an olive tree. Equally strong is Iolaus. In one of his commentaries, producer Rob Tapert explains how Michael Hurst consistently adds layers to an otherwise small role. Hurst doesn't steal the scenes; he builds them. He can go from slapstick to emotive to drag. The boy's got some range. Bruce Campbell, Kevin Smith (not the fat one), and the entrancing Hudson Leick round out the cast of memorable guest stars.
The show's greatest strength lies within it range. Hercules ventures into a variety of genres while sticking to its action roots. To go from "Yes, Virginia, There is a Hercules" to "Porkules" to "Reunions" with skill is something few shows can get away with. The writing is usually strong with no shortage of puns or innuendos.
Anchor Bay did a good thing including commentaries and interviews for their Hercules series of boxed sets. Not only do they provide insight into what was intended and attempted in every episode, they enhance episode enjoyment. The producers, writers, and actors are candid about what did and didn't work. It's evident when a production team enjoys their time on a show.
The "Bringing Monsters to Life at K.N.B. EFX Group" featurette focusing on the creatures and other effects produced for this season of Hercules is best viewed by those with a strong interest in effects houses. For those that aren't, they won't be missing much.
The inclusion of the dailies from "Stranger in a Strange World" is confusing. The picture looks awful and the sound is muted and unclear. Made up of random scenes, the footage isn't placed in any context. Anchor Bay has also included a photo gallery of stills from this season for our enjoyment.
For other viewers unfamiliar to the world of Hercules, the DVD set comes with a bonus CD-ROM chock full of information. It's not necessary to enjoy the episodes, but it's a nice reference to have.
Overall, the picture quality of the episodes is solid. Occasionally, darker footage bleeds out. Soundwise, Hercules comes out on top. No muffling or muting, although the dialogue was overpowered by the music a handful of times. Still, over 22 episodes, this is a forgivable flaw.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Shakespeare, it ain't. Don't watch this series if you are expecting a by-the-book retelling of Greek myths. Unless you're a fan of the Three Stooges and their brand of comedy, this series may not be for you. If you don't like fun, don't watch this.
Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, Season Four is beer and pizza television. Not heavy—although beer and pizza are—Hercules is good times. How many shows make fun of their writing staff, turn their title character into a pig, make the sidekick dress in drag, and can make me laugh out loud? Rent it or buy it, it won't matter where you begin because it will all make sense.
Herc already stood trial once in Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, Season Four. No need to put him through that again. He's free to go.
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Studio: Anchor Bay
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