Robin Hood (2006)


BBC's 2006 "Robin Hood" (with Jonas Armstrong as Robin, Lucy Griffiths as Marian, and Keith Allen as the Sheriff) is not a great television series. But, for that matter, neither is "Desperate Housewives", "Grey's Anatomy" or "American Idol". The latter three pander to a cariacture of everyday existence, little things seem huge, big things seem forgettable, the humanity of a character is less important than the style. If someone is lovable, then that facet had best be channeled into a bankable outlet or it means nothing. Evil is as good as, well, good, so long as it is fun. You watch them because it is a lifestyle that you can kind of understand, pieced together out of chunks of real life, but could never have because the placement of the pieces equates to something more of a fantasy realm than your own boring existence in which an eight hour work day is devoid of meaning or filled with busy work.

This is one of the things that seems odd about a general reaction to "Robin Hood". When not ignored, as it seems to be generally done, it moderately panned. A young Robin? You would think that this was a violation of a golden rule, on par with "never kick animals unless you are a bad guy". There are fans, and some of them are fairly devoted. Which is cool, too, but sort of points back up to the comments I made, above.

What seems to be lost is the fact that series as a whole is a fun expedition into a well-harnessed archetype. Everyone loves the incorrigible outlaw. He's a war hero. He loves a woman he will not touch because of her place in the English court but he will flirt. He fights the bad old authorities. He teams up with loyal men who would rather die than be on his bad side. He is dashing and smart and the best darn allegory for economic equality on any side of the Atlantic. For me, Robin Hood is better than three King Arthurs. You can keep your broken nobility, I like the Chaotic Good rebel over the Lawful Good knight (I concede that the neutral evil wizard with neutral good tendencies is worth three of said rebel, however). The Robin Hood stories do get intense, and some of them even in a way that is not half-laughable, but they are a different way of fighting evil than the more fatalistic stories that lace most of the fantasy/history genre.

Keeping the "dashing" aspects in mind, I am going to say that one should not take this series as "great or bust" or even "good or bust" but as "can you sit back and enjoy it?" I could, even when it is at a nadir it seems to be well aware of this fact and openly revelling it its degree of freedom to go low. This is not a series to when innumerable hearts, but that does not mean you should not give it a try.

One of the hardest things you will have to overcome, though, is the first couple of episodes. They were still working on kinks at this time. Enfused with a "Youthful Hood" they were more about strange cuts and blurred action sequences and easily cut black and white morals. Even when there is a dilemma in front of our young, stubbled hero, we are still told precisely what the best thing is. The Sheriff, who later grows and grows and even makes you like him, thanks to the wonderful fun that Allen has in the role, is played more as a snivelling insanity than a man who is shrewd and having fun in his depravity.

To me, the lowest part in the whole series occurs in that first episode, and it will highlight the sort of things that often go wrong in later ones. Robin, forced to hang his friends, or have his faithful servant pushed to his death, manages to pull a sword on a huge number of guards, who seem to magically dwindle to a mere couple when the fighting starts (most running away form the lone man, I suppose). Then, to top it all off, the servant, who has been rocking back and forth (i.e. "struggling") with the guards is saved by a physically impossible throw of the sword which takes out both guards but strikes not the loyal friend. Here we have all the mistakes the series will make. The battle sequences are never big enough than can be overcome by the heroes, except in rare cases, and it does not matter how hard a target is to hit, or how many guards should be rushing him, Robin can always hit it (and in the shot of him taking aim, has a wide berth for plenty of arm room). Light bows can be used to crush armor. Dilemmas (except one, so far) are less dilemmas and more waiting for the right moment to choose the obviously good path. Oh, and they keep letting Robin into Nottingham, which seems to be made up of two hallways, a dungeon, a bedroom, and a courtyard (and an outside wall). It feels like it was designed by whoever made those old Zork games (you leave the courtyard by the door to the north, you are in a leave hallway to the southeast, you are in a bedroom...).

That, and it seems to take less than five minutes to run or ride anywhere in England. That, or the villages are real close together.

But, as said before, "Robin Hood" is about the spirit of fun more than most things (strangely, it is also a fairly realistic portrayal of how such activity would have been treated...stealing taxes back from the Sheriff only makes him go and take more money from the next village, making the situation worse overall, because he cuts out a tongue or two while doing it). There is not one complaint you can hold against this series that is not a part of the much more loved "Xena" or "Hercules" or untold other low-budget fantasy series. Any show that includes the exchange "I shot the sheriff!" "No, but you did shoot my deputy..." is not taking itself as seriously as either the panners or the fanners are. And that is why I like it. I forgave the utter inanity of the first episode's climax, and found that the series regularly adds a little more depth to the side characters, regularly examines the Robin Hood character on more than one side, and regularly embraces itself for what it is (a good-hearted show about standing up to tyranny that has to keep its budget low and fight for increasingly hostile tv-time).

What I am saying is, give it a shot. It is only thirteen episodes long. And if you don't like it, then you can watch doctors spend thirteen hours a day worrying about if some guy likes them or not, or if they should get breast implants to feel confident. Oh, and the Sheriff is great. That, too.

Written by W Doug Bolden

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