Friday, March 9, 2012

A lengthy introduction...

Once upon a time, back when I was a young undergrad just starting classes at the University of Evansville, I was a member of the BMG music club (my parents had signed me up as part of a graduation present, I believe). Every month, I’d get mailers advertising great deals on CDs, and though I’m not sure how I was able to actually afford it, I made a fair number of purchases that first year—granted, I had to make a certain number of purchases to fulfill the contract, so maybe that’s what had happened. Whatever the case, amongst those purchases was a CD entitled “Clannad’s Greatest Hits.” Having been a longtime fan of Enya and yes, Yanni, I was willing to give what appeared to be an Irish new age group a try. When I got the CD and listened to it, I wasn’t sure whether or not I liked it. There were about half a dozen tracks I could say I definitely liked, but most of the rest were either “meh”, or I just plain didn’t like them.

Funny how that CD has ended up changing my life in a fairly significant way.

Fast forward about a decade. For whatever reason—maybe it was for those half-dozen songs I liked—I still had that CD. I was listening to it one day, trying to decide if I liked those few songs enough to keep the CD, or if it was time to get rid of it and move on. One of the songs on the CD is called “Robin (The Hooded Man.” This was one that I had originally pegged as more of a “meh” song, but as I listened to it this time, it got the creative gears in my brain going, and I got the idea, what if Robin Hood could do magic? Having long been a fan of the fantasy genre, this idea appealed to me. But I was busy with teaching at the time and had little to no time for actual productive creativity. So this idea sat on the shelf in the back of my mind, collecting dust.

Until last year.

Last June, I got addicted to Netflix, thanks to a couple of sisters who shall remain unnamed in this particular blog post (but you can find their names here, if you are that interested). It just so happened that I stumbled across a fairly recent BBC series called “Robin Hood” (obviously about that legendary outlaw). I fell in love with it. Sure, I could see it had some flaws, but I found it very entertaining. It also got those creative gears going again. Since I was no longer caught in the trap of lesson plans and grading, it was a lot easier to pull that old idea of a magical Robin Hood off the shelf and begin seeing what I could do with it. I was doing a lot of road-tripping that June as well, which meant a LOT of time spent by myself in the car. I don’t know about you, but I have found that many times, driving (like walking) is a great time for thinking out story ideas. (I got so many story ideas while doing the family paper route for many years…) And so, my Robin Hood story began to take shape…

Now, remember that Clannad CD that started this lengthy anecdote? Specifically, that “meh” song that somehow inspired this creativity? Well, it turns out that it was actually the theme song to an early 80s British drama called “Robin of Sherwood,” which just so happened to be about—you guessed it—that same infamous (i.e. “more than famous”) character. Curious, I read the plot synopses on, as well as a few user reviews. So many people raved about it that I finally decided to check it out (luckily, Hulu had most of the episodes available). My initial impression was, “What was so great about that?” Then I learned that Hulu did not carry several key episodes. Annoyed, I finally tracked down a complete copy of the series at the library here in Syracuse. I have now watched through the whole series a few times, still trying to see what everyone else was raving about. I have also watched the BBC Robin Hood a few times through, having gotten it for Christmas (thanks, Melanie!).

You could say I’ve become a little obsessed. (I just call it research.)

As I said, funny how a semi-random purchase in my early college years has changed my life so unexpectedly.

(Incidentally, I still have that CD, and have come to really like just about every single song on there.)

(Also incidentally, Enya is the sister of the lead singer of Clannad.)

So, why do I even share this out of my life? Why do you even care? Well, maybe you don’t, but I do. These things have become important to me, even a semi-obsession, as noted, mostly because for the first time, I feel ready to create—to actually write this story, instead of merely creating background details to set the story up, as has been the case with most of my other story ideas. (In case you didn’t know/realize, writing is hard—there is so much work involved!) As such, I really have been doing a lot of actual research into the legend surrounding Robin and the other characters that commonly crop up. But part of that research has included watching some of the many incarnations created by the entertainment industry. So I share this because my writing is important to me, my story is important to me, and some of the elements that have helped shape this particular idea have also become important to me. And since these things are important to me, I want to share them with the people who are important to me in the hopes that perhaps you can begin to see/understand why they have become a valuable component of my life as it is right now.

Thus, I invite you to read on…

Robin of Sherwood or Robin Hood?


I would like to point out that there are simply too many versions of the Robin Hood story in TV/Film alone to even attempt to do a comparison of them all—at least, not in one blog. (Maybe someday, I’ll attempt some such thing, but this blog entry has already worn me out!) Anyway, over the last several (read: many) months, the two particular versions that have kept the bulk of my interest have been Robin Hood and Robin of Sherwood. Thus, this and the next (technically, the previous) post will be drawing comparisons between those two shows, giving my own personal analysis of what works and what doesn’t.

*Warning—the following analyses may contain spoilers.*

Robin of Sherwood (1984-1986):

Synopsis: Robin of Loxley (and later Robert of Huntingdon) is called by Herne the Hunter to protect the people against the unjust rule of the Normans, most especially the greedy and unscrupulous Sheriff of Nottingham and his lieutenant, Sir Guy of Gisburne.

On the plus side: I like that this series finds a clever way to incorporate the dual origins of Robin Hood (peasant v. nobleman). There is an interesting use of mysticism connected with Herne the Hunter, which helps add to the Saxon v. Norman issue; though magic isn’t exactly involved, there are definitely supernatural elements. As such, the storylines are pretty creative—it’s not always Robin v. the Sheriff/Gisburne. I like that there is a realism to the way people react to Robin—he’s not universally adored just because they hate the Sheriff. He is an outlaw, so sometimes the people are afraid to like him, they may doubt him because he is an outlaw, or sometimes even doubt his motives. I also find it interesting that, in keeping with the Saxon v. Norman vibe, King Richard is not a sympathetic character (straying from popular culture)—in fact, he and Robin have a bit of a clash in one episode.

The not so good side: First, considering how Robin’s skill with a bow was as legendary as the outlaw himself, there isn’t as much bow use as I expected—Robin (especially Loxley) seems to rely more frequently on the sword than the bow—and even when it is used, there’s not much to suggest anything extraordinary about his skill (aside from the competition in the first episode). Also, for someone whose name typically derives from his wearing of a hood, neither Robin wears a hood much. Some of the writing is weak—moments with potential emotional power/impact are sometimes left wanting. I’m not at all convinced with the Loxley/Marion “love at first sight”—nothing really makes their initial relationship believable. Considering the fact that it was made in the 1980s, the sound effects/special effects are sometimes a bit cheesy (e.g. the "Muppet of death")-though I’m sure some were pretty good for the time- and I’m not really a fan of the quasi-mullet/feathered hair look of both Robins. Gisburne seems too much the petulant, whiny, spoiled child than a good villain. The music does not always fit well with the action (which is probably because Clannad didn’t see the show before writing it—they just wrote music for the show that the directors/producers then incorporated as they saw fit). Finally, THE END of it—I don’t care what their reasons were, I still hate the way it ended and think it was stupid!

What makes it worth watching: Nasir is easily the coolest part of the gang (which is ironic considering that his character wasn’t supposed to live past the first episode)—as a mostly silent, double-saber-wielding Saracen, he is just awesome! Marion is also a fantastic force, able to be “one of the guys” when it comes to the fighting, but also still able to exude the right amount of femininity. The Sheriff of Nottingham is a fantastic villain, with just the right amount of crazy. Loxley’s death scene in “The Greatest Enemy” is actually very well done, very powerful (that whole episode, really, is a good one for many reasons). If nothing else, it is worth watching to see how much it has influenced nearly every Robin Hood re-telling in the years since (e.g. Robin having a Middle-Eastern companion originated here), and more (even Willow was influenced in part by this show).

Some favorite episodes: “Swords of Wayland” (Season 2), “The Greatest Enemy” (Season 2), “The Sheriff of Nottingham” (Season 3), “The Betrayal” (Season 3).

General conclusion: The show is campy (though no more so than most other 80s dramas of the time), but entertaining. I will admit that I prefer the Jason Connery episodes over the Michael Praed ones.

Robin Hood (2006-2009):

Synopsis: Robin, Earl of Huntingdon, returns from the Crusades with his trusty manservant, Much, only to find the old Sheriff of Nottingham, a friend and father of his ladylove, Marian, has been replaced by a much more dastardly villain who cares nothing for true justice. He gives up his inheritance to fight against the sheriff and his dark, brooding man-at-arms, Sir Guy of Gisborne and to protect the people any way he can.

On the plus side: I love that this show doesn’t take itself too seriously—there is a lot of cheeky humor, and they aren’t afraid to delve into the realm of “silly” every now and then. There is a lot of nice bow action—some impressive shots made by Robin that are much more in keeping with the Robin Hood legend. Robin himself is characterized nicely with his strong sense of justice and his willingness to sacrifice so much—his own life, if need be—for the people, even if they aren’t always grateful. I love Little John and his way with words. Marian adds some pretty cool action as the Night Watchman. In fact, most of the characters are people we come to care about. Despite being a more lighthearted show, it still takes time to deal with serious issues (e.g. Little John having to deal with his wife’s anger and hurt when she learns he’s been alive for all the years she thought he was dead, the gang talking through their issues with each other when it looks like death is inevitable, etc.). I’m okay with the fact that they draw parallels with current events so that they can make effective social commentaries. There are at least a couple of redemption stories (and let’s be honest, who doesn’t love a good redemption story?). And the ending is satisfying in its own way—Robin gets a hero’s ending, Guy is able to find redemption, and the villains get their just desserts.

The not so good side: As in Robin of Sherwood, this Robin does not wear a hood very often, either. When he does, it frequently looks more like he’s wearing a medieval-style hoodie. There are a good number of anachronisms in the show—and we’re not just talking mistakes that were overlooked. They are either big ones (such as an Anglo-African Tuck as a priest) or careless ones (a character wearing what are obviously modern-day army fatigues poorly hidden under a few medieval-esque accessories). While I like the idea of Marian acting as a spy in Nottingham Castle, she’s a little too convincing when she flirts with Gisborne to keep him away from Robin. Either she’s seriously got a soft spot for the bad boy (which would be a stupid way to go) or she’s seriously manipulative and duplicitous (which wouldn’t speak very well of her character in general). Whatever the case, I’m not a fan of her apparent flip-flopping. Speaking of Marian, while she ends up with a poignant death scene, I didn’t like that she dies (though they had to come up with something, since the actress wanted to leave the show, and I suppose they didn’t think a replacement Marian would be accepted by audiences…). I also don’t like that most of the threats—even those given by the villains—tend to be empty. True, it’s a family show, but it’s still a little ridiculous that all someone has to do is whine and pout a bit and they are given yet another chance, even after the dozen they’d already had (At least in RoS, most of the threats are carried out). And then there is Season 3. Sure, it has its moments (including the redemption of both Guy of Gisborne and Alan a Dale), but it stretches credulity a little too much, most likely for ratings (e.g. Robin has a romance with both Isabella and Kate, Guy and Robin find out they share a half-brother, and other such things…).

What makes it worth watching: Keith Allen’s Sheriff of Nottingham is delightfully over the top—he borders on the ridiculous, but I find it entertaining nonetheless. Robin himself is a fun character (and charmingly cute in a way). The gang as a whole adds a lot of fun, each character adding their own unique touch to the humor. The stories are generally engaging stories filled with sufficient action—I was easily sucked in, anyway. Despite Marian’s convincing flirtation with Guy, the romance between her and Robin is still pretty compelling. And then there are the redemption stories.

Some favorite episodes: “Sister Hood” (Season 2), “Get Carter” (Season 2), “A Good Day to Die” (Season 2),

General conclusion: As previously noted, the show can get a bit silly, but it is fun and appealing. You can pretty much ignore Season 3—or, if you need closure after the tragedy of Marian, just watch the first episode. You get plenty of good stuff in the first two seasons alone.

Overall series winner: Robin Hood. I just think that the overall combination of elements and chemistry in Robin Hood worked better than in Robin of Sherwood.

*I should note, however, that the more I’ve watched Robin Hood, the more I see the flaws (though I still find it very enjoyable), yet the more I’ve watched Robin of Sherwood, the more I can see why people are still drawn to it, despite its campy feel—I can better see the value and I’m better able to appreciate it.