How a network can update Robin Hood and not set it in the 'Hood puzzles Judge Eric Profancik to no end.
Our reviews of Robin Hood: Season One (Blu-Ray) (published October 1st, 2008), Robin Hood (1973) (Blu-ray) 40th Anniversary (published August 6th, 2013), Robin Hood (2010) (Blu-ray) (published September 21st, 2010), and Robin Hood: Season Three (published April 30th, 2010) are also available.
A Different Kind of Hood
Different is often good. Right now, we're in a cycle of different. We've grown tired of the same old same old, and everything old is new again…but it's different. Superman Returns, Batman Begins, Casino Royale, Star Trek XI; they remind us that we're tired of what we've seen. Oh, we enjoy the basic plots and characters these stories play in, but we want to rejuvenate them. That's the thing right now, and most times it works.
Robin Hood, a television series from England, came to BBC America a few months back. It gave us another iteration of the well-known tale of a group of merry men stealing from the rich and giving to the poor. This time, this re-imagining, it doesn't quite work. Giving modern overtones and sensibilities to men hiding in a forest and shooting arrows at bad guys doesn't work when everyone is acting all hip and modern.
Facts of the Case
We know the classic tale: Robin of Lochsley, Earl of Huntington (Jonas Armstrong), returns from the Crusades to find his home in turmoil. After defending his King and his religion, he's stunned to find the rich living in splendor and the poor barely able to survive. The ruthless Sheriff of Nottingham (Keith Allen, De-Lovely) leads the charge against the people and the King. With his right-hand man, Guy of Gisborne (Richard Armitage), the Sheriff thrives on his power and won't give it up easily. Robin speaks out and soon finds himself an outlaw, hiding in Sherwood Forest. There he bands together with others to fight against the Sheriff. All the while, his one unspoken love, the fair maid, Marian (Lucy Griffiths), tries to use her status to fight the Sheriff from within; but this puts her in grave jeopardy. Guy, enamored of the beautiful Marian, woos her and convinces her that marrying him is the only thing that can protect her from herself.
These adventures of Robin Hood are presented in thirteen episodes:
• "Will You Tolerate This?"
I must have been watching a repeat of a Christopher Eccleston episode of Doctor Who on BBC America when I saw a commercial for the upcoming season of Robin Hood. The commercial looked pretty good, and it intrigued me enough that I set my DVR to record the entire season. Week one arrives and I watch the first episode. Hmm, mildly interesting but not quite there. Let's see what happens next week. Episode Two and things continue with the same feeling of incompleteness. And so another week or two goes by and I'm still not impressed. I'm watching this show, but I'm soundly unsatisfied. That's one of my quirks in that it takes something really bad for me to stop watching a show after I've invested a few hours of my time. That's why I keep watching CSI: Miami and that's why I kept watching Robin Hood.
Then with the tenth episode, I'd had enough. Why was I still watching a show that did nothing for me? I found it tedious, common, and boring. It was a chore for me to sit still and watch the entire hour. So I decided I had wasted enough time with this lackluster show and gave up.
But then I felt guilty. Not guilty but more curious as to how the season would wrap up. I was almost through, so maybe everything built up to a great ending—some grand event that would have made it all worthwhile. I almost tried to catch it in reruns, but I didn't. Still guilty, here I am reviewing the set.
Was there an ending to make it all better? No. Just more of the same.
While watching the episodes, I wrote quite a long list of things that I didn't like about the show. The issues poured easily and freely from my pen, and without knowing it, I was deep into nitpicking the series apart. Narrowing it down, there are some key factors that make Robin Hood a show that doesn't live up to its potential. Why? The characters are too modern, the Sheriff is too weak an enemy and too easily thwarted, and each story ends with a resounding, trite thud.
• Too Modern: The entire foundation of this depiction of Robin Hood is that they wanted to put modern sensibilities on these classic characters and situations. The purpose: to entice the next generation of viewers. In other words, appeal to the kids and teenagers. As stated in the bonus material, "Robin Hood is for the PlayStation generation." This quote is a bit misleading, for the intent of the statement was that "kids" today can watch twelve different things going on at once in a scene. You can pick up the pace and be more frenetic. That idea isn't a bad one: give things a bit more energy for today's audiences. However, I didn't see that energy. Instead, I see a show taking the lazy way out and putting modern people—their ideas, their actions, their looks—into the twelfth (or so) century. It just doesn't work because the people and the locales are too disparate. Your mind is constantly reminding you that these people would not behave this way. They're not acting right, they're thinking way outside the box for the Middle Ages, and they just look to perfectly scruffy and handsome/pretty for the time. The modern twist completely fails for me.
• The Sheriff: The crux of Robin's quest is to thwart the evil Sheriff. Even in the reviled Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, the one thing done right was Alan Rickman as the Sheriff. He chewed up the scenes, but he also had menace. This Sheriff is menacing at times, but he's also a clown. He's a clown that's easily defeated, and is trounced in every single episode. The Sheriff never gets a victory, for Robin and his men are always one step ahead. That's good for the hero and those rooting for a victory, but they quickly become shallow victories. Robin wins without trying. Episode after episode, Robin has the Sheriff at his mercy; but he constantly lets he go (lets him live) to cause more havoc the next day. This shouldn't be so. The Sheriff is the big bad guy, and Robin shouldn't be so much better than him. Robin shouldn't be able to walk into Nottingham Castle any time he wants to. There's no challenge for the Sheriff and his men are pathetic pushovers.
• The Endings: Overall, most of the stories are rather dull with no exciting new plots. The Sheriff does his bad thing, Robin gets mad, and Robin and his men save the day. It's the same formula week after week. But that's what episodic television is all about, and few shows have enough variety from week to week. What makes Robin Hood all the worse is that the endings are both simple and corny. You get some buildup, some suspense, some drama, and then Robin wins in the simplest way. There's so little resistance and so few interesting complications that you think any old outlaw could walk in and save the day. What's so special about Robin? Not much. He can shoot an arrow quite nicely, but his resolutions to the problems are too simple. You expect a grand climax, and you end up with "that's it?" On top of that, the endings are horribly corny and trite, for the characters always ham up their victory. It flows from the modernization of the tale, and it is the final bitter pill after a tepid story. The perfect encapsulation of this is literally the last scene of the season: Robin and his men are strutting away in formation from the castle and they all do a big, modern whoop of cheer for their latest victory. Freeze frame and fade to black and white. Yahoo!
Those are the major problems with Robin Hood, yet there are more. I've quickly detailed a few more of them in "The Rebuttal Witness" below. Put it all together and they form a chain of circumstances that prevent this show from being quality television. I don't believe the series will go the distance.
The bad news continues as we talk about the DVDs. Starting with the package itself, Robin Hood: Season 1 is a mess. The packaging is poorly designed for there is no episode detail/breakdown on the box nor are there any liner notes. You have no idea which disc each episode is on, nor do you have a complete listing of bonus features and their location. The only way to find out is to put in each of the five discs and make a list. I've done that, and here's is a disc-by-disc inventory:
Each disc also begins with a trailer or two for another British show like [i]Doctor Who[/i].
Seeing how the episodes and bonus items are spread so unevenly across the discs, it's a terrible oversight not to have included any listing.
I'll not go into much detail on any of the bonus items. Each is exactly what its title implies. All of them are average, with some interesting nuggets scattered here and there. The least interesting are the profiles, which come across as obvious instead of informative. None of them stand out as exceptional, and you'll never go back and watch them again. Taken in whole, you do get a nice picture of what went into the making of the series and how much fun everyone had putting it together.
On to the transfers, and not even those are free from criticism. Video is 1.85:1 anamorphic, and I detected no obvious errors. Colors are accurate, blacks are nicely defined, and detail is acceptable. It looks good for television on DVD, but it's lacking that crisp level of realism. You don't feel like you're there, which I was expecting as so much of it is filmed outdoors—and nature shows usually look stunning on DVD. Doing worse is the audio, either a Dolby Digital 5.1 or 2.0 mix. With the 5.1 track, I found these to be inconsistent from one episode to the next. While one story was easy to hear and understand, the next would have a soft center channel so I couldn't hear what anyone was saying. Throughout, I didn't hear any hiss or distortion. Surrounds were used sparingly, most often for birds chirping in the background. The biggest oomph from the subwoofer comes during the menu when the target rotates to take you into the story. Oddly, the default audio choice is the 2.0 and not the 5.1
The Rebuttal Witnesses
What else is wrong with Robin Hood? Lots. Here are just a few more examples:
• The Merry Men: You know Little John and Will Scarlet by reputation, but you don't know them or any of the other men in this story. They're given no exposition, no development, and when they come and go, you don't even miss them.
• Much: Much is a the name of a character; he's Robin's friend, manservant, or something like that. He calls Robin "master" but I'm not certain why. Nonetheless, Much is an incredibly annoying, whiny twit. He does nothing but complain in every situation. His incessant grumbling makes you wish that he'd get hanged by the Sheriff.
• Too Pretty: Mentioned above, everything is just too darn pretty. Everyone has a perfect five o'clock shadow, perfectly coiffed hair, and blemish-free faces. That's not how it was. Also, they're all too young. These rogues should be older and more seasoned, to add at least some small measure of credibility to the tale.
• Djaq (Jack): Djaq is a female Saracen (the enemy) masquerading as a man and brought into Robin's fold. It takes everyone in the band an entire episode to learn Djaq is a woman, but no one outside the group can see he is a she. She is obviously a she.
The first time around, I gave this premier season of Robin Hood nine chances to make me a fan. The DVDs allowed me to give the series four more. It didn't capitalize on any of them. This modern interpretation of this legendary tale falls flat on all counts. With weak stories and flat characters, there's no good reason to want to tune in and watch this series. Certainly some modernization of the story is acceptable, but Robin Hood easily crosses the line and makes the show too modern for its own good. Obviously, I cannot recommend this set for either rental or purchase. True fans of the show will ignore me, and outside of some audio problems, they should be content with the release. Others, this is not the best example of British television. They do great television across the pond, but, sadly, this isn't an example of it.
Robin Hood: Season 1 is hereby found guilty of being a poor marksmen and missing the target.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: BBC Video
• Audio Commentary on Select Episodes
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