Sunday, November 02, 2008

Saturday-Afternoon Syndicated Fantasies

In the mid-nineties, before cable TV original programming further fragmented the TV audience, there was a phenomenon known as the syndicated hourlong adventure show. The programs that ruled the syndicated roost were the HERCULES and XENA shows produced by Sam Raimi and Rob Tapert. At their best, these were fun, goofy, action-packed shows that carelessly tossed together Greek mythology, Conan-type sword and sorcery, fantasy martial art movie wirework, and superhero stories. They tapered off after they began taking themselves too seriously and the whole market faded.

Raimi and Tapert are now exploring the same territory 10 years later, with their new series LEGEND OF THE SEEKER. It's the first attempt I know of to bring one of those modern Tolkien-inspired fantasy series that have swarmed the SF-Fantasy sections of bookstores for the last 30 years or so. It adapts a best-selling series of really thick (in terms of page count) books by Terry Goodkind. I've never read them, so I can't analyze how faithful they are to the source, but the opening episode indicates that the TV series features a "chosen-one" type farmboy turned ultra-warrior, an attractive-yet-complicated magic-using warrior woman, an eccentric wizard who dispenses wisdom where needed, and lots of innocent folks to be helped and wrongs to be righted as they take on a nasty dictator. All set against the same New Zealand scenery as the prior Raimi-Tapert shows. So diverting, but not necesarily earth-shattering.

All of the actors were fairly competent with the subject matter, but the scene-stealer was Bruce Spence (the gyro captain in THE ROAD WARRIOR) as the crusty wizard. The teaser for the next episode shows that, as with most Sam Raimi projects, Sam's brother Ted will appear in a supporting role. And it's only a matter of time before Raimi's old pal Bruce Campbell makes an appearance.

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