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Case Number 05422

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Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, Season Four

Anchor Bay // 1997 // 1080 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge David Gutierrez (Retired) // October 20th, 2004

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All Rise...

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.

Editor's Note

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.

The Charge

"Well, Iolaus, this is another fine mess you've gotten us into."—Hercules

Opening Statement

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.

The Evidence

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"
A strong start for season four has Autolycus (Bruce Campbell, The Evil Dead) and Hercules climb a beanstalk, face a giant, and mother some harpy eggs.
Best bit: Autolycus teaching the giant, Typhoon, how to woo a woman.
Grade: A-

• "Hero's Heart"
When Iolaus realizes he can't save everyone, he invites the goddess Fortune to remove his memory—sending Iolaus on a criminal path and into battle with Hercules.
Grade: B-

• "Regrets. I've Had a Few"
Hercules remembers when he met Celestra (i.e. Death) for the first time in his life. A young Hercules (Ian Bohen) accidentally kills a young punk named Bartoc. Overcome with guilt, young Herc visits Bartoc's family—eventually befriending Bartoc's brother, Jaris. In Hercules's present, Celestra is coming for Jaris, forcing Hercules and Jaris to reconcile with Jaris's impending death.

This episode begins a series of episodes featuring less and less of Sorbo.
Grade: B

• "Web of Desire"
On an island, Nebula (Gina Torres, Firefly) and her band of pirates are attacked by Arachne. Hercules, Iolaus, and a couple of their friends are forced onto the island during a storm. It's up to Nebula, Herc, and Iolaus to brave both the storm and the spider-woman.
Best bit: Gina Torres.
Grade: A-

• "Stranger in a Strange World"
Iolaus falls into an alternate reality where everyone behaves in an opposite manner. In this world, Ares is the God of Love, Aphrodite is modest, Iolaus is a court jester, and Hercules rules with an iron fist as the Sovereign. Iolaus must stop the Sovereign and the alternate Xena from killing the alternate Zeus and find a way back to his reality. Must all evil counterparts have a goatee?

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.
Best bit: Renee O'Connor's guest appearance.
Grade: A-

• "Two Men and a Baby"
Hercules's old flame, Nemesis, shows up with a baby in tow. Nemesis is planning leaving the baby with Hercules, who believes he's the father. Ares (Kevin Smith) is after the baby for mysterious reasons of his own. The baby displays some interesting abilities, calling into question his paternity. Hercules, why didn't you ask for the blood test?
Grade: B-

"Prodigal Sister"
Hercules reunites a brother and sister who were separated during an Amazon attack.

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.
Grade: C

• "…And Fancy Free"
Hercules's good graces know no bounds. Herc signs on as a distressed girl's dance partner for the Panathenia dance contest. Dance rivalry can be a killer, so it's up to Hercules to do some soft shoe and fight off assassins.
Best Bit: Michael Hurst's cross-dressing turn as Widow Twanky.
Grade: A-

• "If I Had a Hammer"
The delightful Atalanta (Cory Everson) can't seem to find a man that will accept her unconditionally. She turns her frustration into a metal sculpture of Hercules. Hephaestus, the god of forge, gives life to the statue. Now, two Hercules are running around. It's fun and games until the new Hercules kills someone, framing the original Hercules.
Best Bit: The T-1000 Hercules.
Grade: B-

• "Hercules on Trial"
Hercules stands trial for influencing others to follow in his footsteps.

This episode features the intriguing premise of heroic idolatry and what it means to act indestructible when someone clearly isn't.
Grade: B+

• "Medea Culpa"
Young Hercules, young Iolaus, and young Jason of the Argonauts venture out to kill the Ghidra, one of Hera's agents. Medea (Jacinda Barrett, Ladder 49) pulls a Yoko, causing friction between young Herc and Jason. Hera's plan comes to head as she assaults Jason, causing Medea to come clean about her scheme.

Chicks always break up the band—even in ancient Greece.
Grade: B+

• "Men in Pink"
Autolycus and Salmoneus are on the lam. To escape, the pair decide to hide as members of Widow Twanky's female dance troupe.

Best Bit: Bruce Campbell and Michael Hurd as women. It doesn't get much funnier than that.
Grade: A-

• "Armageddon Now"
Hope, daughter of Xena's Gabrielle, empowers Callisto (Hudson Leick) to kill Hercules. Callisto and Ares trap Hercules in limbo with the Sovereign. Callisto goes back in time to kill Hercules's mother with Iolaus chasing after.

It's a time travel episode done right that also has the death of a god.
Grade: A

• "Armageddon Now Part Two"
Iolaus has to find a way to save the future after he fails to save Hercules's mother from Callisto. He follows Callisto through her past where he encounters a world changed for the worse. Meanwhile, Hercules tries to escape from limbo.
Grade: A

• "Yes, Virginia, There is a Hercules"
The writing staff at Renaissance Pictures discovers the star of their show, Kevin Sorbo, has disappeared during an earthquake. The staff brainstorms ways to keep the show going with their star.

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.
Best bit: Bruce Campbell's Rob Tapert.
Grade: A+

• "Porkules"
When a chimp doesn't work out, go with a pig. In this tribute to Babe, the goddess Discord turns Hercules into a pig. She employs a hunter to off Porkules. While Iolaus and Autolycus look for Porkules, their friend makes nice with another pig, Katherine.
Grade: B

• "One Fowl Day"
Continued from "Porkules," Discord has been turned into a chicken. The pig, Katherine, gets turned into a human and tries to adjust to life on two legs.
Best bit: Autolycus and Iolaus at war with a giant chicken.
Grade: B+

• "My Fair Cupcake"
Autolycus tries to fix an ex-girlfriend up with a prince. Consistently plotting, Autolycus has designs on some royal jewels.

Another great Autolycus episode, Campbell's presence is guaranteed comedy gold.
Grade: A-

• "War Wounds"
Iphicles (Kevin Smith), Hercules's half-brother, is grieving. He takes out his aggressions on soldiers, forcing Hercules and Iolaus to intervene and mediate.

"War Wounds" is a decent dramatic turn introducing some very cool looking sandsharks.
Best bit: Kevin Smith plays Hercules's half-brothers Ares and Iphicles. That's funny.
Grade: B+

• "Twilight"
Alcemene, Herc's mother, is dying. In another flashback episode, Hercules remembers bringing peace to rival nations at a heavy price. After Hercules loses his mother, his father makes him an offer.

The flashback portion of the episode came off as nothing more than filler.
Grade: C

• "Top God"
Hercules ponders his father's offer to turn him into a god. He remembers a time when he experienced godhood as teenager.

Okay, enough with the filler already. On the upside, their interpretation of Apollo as an attention-starved surfer was clever.
Grade: C

• "Reunions"
Hercules discovers the truth behind his offer of godhood. Turns out, Zeus needs some protection from his wife, Hera (Meg Foster, They Live). Parental strife abounds as Hercules battles his step-mom and Iolaus tries to reconcile with his mother.

"Reunions" finishes an uneven season on a high note, resolving a problem that has plagued Hercules all his life.
Best bit: Olympus.
Grade: A

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.

Closing Statement

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.

The Verdict

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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Scales of Justice

Video: 90
Audio: 95
Extras: 85
Acting: 90
Story: 85
Judgment: 89

Perp Profile

Studio: Anchor Bay
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Subtitles:
• None
Running Time: 1080 Minutes
Release Year: 1997
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Genres:
• Action
• Comedy
• Fantasy
• Television

Distinguishing Marks

• Audio Commentaries
• Interviews with Cast and Crew
• "Bringing Monsters to Live At K.N.B. EFX Group" Featurette
• Dailies from "Stranger In A Strange World"
• Photo Gallery
• CD-ROM with Series Trivia, Bios, and Production Drawings








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Review content copyright © 2004 David Gutierrez; Site design and review layout copyright © 2014 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.