PLOT OF THE SEASON – Get your bow, Robin! There's a-doin's a-transpirin'! The Sheriff has solved that little problem of you maybe killing him by making a deal with Prince John. If the Sheriff doesn't send a seal* to John every week, Nottingham is burned to the ground. And how is the Sheriff paying for this magnificent life assurance? In evil schemes, of course! He's helping John get a variety of nobles on his side, so that when King Richard returns to England, they'll kill him and use their freshly loyal armies to solidify John's hold on the country. Only Robin Hood can stop him, but it won't be easy. For one thing, baldy beardy hasn't given up on doing extracurricular evil schemes for the fun of it, Marian's living in the castle after Guy burned down her house, and he's got five sidekicks trying to jump on the character development train.
*A wax seal**, not a live seal.
** Meaning an impression of the sheriff's ring in wax, not a seal made of wax.
APOLOGY - First I need to say something I totally missed in my season one review: The theme tune kicks ass. Bum ba da BUMMM ba da da bum banadadadaDUM! Great stuff. I really should have mentioned it in my last review. They play it at the many suitably heroic moments and it’s just so great that Robin gets his own heroic theme to pull out at inspirational moments, like Indiana Jones or Superman. It’s such a hero thing, and not one of the other things we‘ve seen here have had that kind of strong theme. (DIGRESSION: I like Shirley Walker’s “Superman the Animated Series” theme better than the one from the movies.) So anyway, sorry I missed that.
THE GOOD - Thankfully, the writers really figured out what worked from last season and what didn’t. The mood is more lighthearted but the stakes are more dramatic, the dialogue’s wittier but the performances are realer, and most important, the haircuts are a lot saner. The ham-fisted modern parallels are… less so. Look at it this way: Worst line was not something with a lot of competition this season, and the line that I chose is more because it could have been so much better. But for best line, there was serious competition, and I... well, you'll see. There’s none worth complaining about, so that’s something. In fact, they have a line that's very similar to my 'fixed' worst line of the last season. Marian's dad, Sir Someone, says that he believes in the rights of the free man, and the sheriff's response is a concise "Who cares what you believe?" Anyway, good season. I actually ranked it at five stars on Netflix. Truth be told, on a 1-5 scale, I’d give it like a 4.3, but I bumped it up because it was just that enjoyable. Of course, that missing .7 had to come from somewhere.
THE BAD - Let’s be clear, a few episodes are blatant stinkers. But I’m used to that. You can’t be a fan of genre television without learning to bear it. Like on Doctor Who, you can‘t get to “The Girl in the Fireplace“ without first sitting through “Fear Her” . (American Equivalent - You have to sit through “Hide and Q” to see “Tapestry”.) The finale particularly went all over the place, negating the rest of the season in the most convoluted and crazy way possible. (See also: Doctor Who) But as I say, I’m used to that, and it doesn’t bother me so much. What does bother me are the little subtle ways the writers don’t trust themselves. Their lack of faith in their own plotting leads them to fall back on clichéd business like Guy/Marian sexual tension or Robin brooding, and none of that works at all. But for things that really bothered me, most of it fits in with the individual sections, and is thus dealt with below in a presumably humorous manner.
("Barbers... I do not like." [joke by the author's brother])
LITTLE JOHN - Thank god Gordon Kennedy decided to let his hair grow in the off season. He looks great this season, and his character really clicked… most of the time. Having apparently spent some time on the Klingon homeworld, John has developed a new catchphrase; “It is a good day to die!” And for the most part is all fun and gung-ho, until on incredibly wangsty scene where he admits he has a for realsies death wish, due to his likely-forever separation from his wife and son. In this speech, he refers to his son as “Little Little John”, eliciting a very loud and inappropriate laugh from me. On the wonderfully ridiculous front, John’s considerable strength has been amped up this season to Hulk-like levels. When he stops a giant stone wall from closing by lifting it with his back, or punches down a door that Will can’t lock pick, it’s always fun. He also gets to handle the medicine this year, which makes sense, what with him being a woodsman and knowing all the plants and what have you. If this was last year, Jack would be doing the medicine. But other people are allowed to be special now!
(The decision to make Will more distinctive to the audience by a funny hat was, I feel, a misstep.)
WILL SCARLET - Will Scarlet - SUPERCARPENTER! Okay, so after napping his way through season one, the Scarlet wonder makes a return here, and they seem to have decided that since the only cool stuff he ever did was build something or go after the castle’s architecture, they’d play up his carpentry skill even more this time around. And it’s… well, it’s frankly implausible a lot of the time. Making a camouflaged entrance to the gang’s hideout: Good. Making a wooden slide projector: Bad. On a positive note, Harry Lloyd can widen his eyes now! Hooray! Acting! Actually, I saw him on an episode of Doctor Who, and he was kind of amazingly over the top. Maybe he only has two speeds. Deranged On Account of Alien Posession and Subtle To the Point of Napping. But anyway, the wide and narrow eyes help a lot, and he actually has some nice moments in the last few episodes, when they step up the writing on Will, which helps a lot. Oh, and his mustache thickens up a lot this season, which somehow looks pretty good, rather than being creepy, like you would expect.
(Tuck will be played by the English lovechild of Dennis Hayesbert and the Old Spice guy.)
TUCK - Still not shown up, but the third season has aired, and Tuck finally made the cut, so you‘ll hear about him eventually. He’s a tall, handsome, muscular, black man. Normally, I’d roll my eyes at this, but given what they’ve done with Alan and Much, I say let’s go nuts.
(I forget what was going on here, but based on the rest of the season, I'd have to guess Much noticed they shouldn't be shooting at something, and everyone else ignored him and called him stupid.)
MUCH - Speaking of whom... Sadly, the tradeoff for the far superior season we have here is that my favorite character from season one doesn’t do quite so well. Part of it is just that with the increasing development of the other characters, and Robin’s more solid relationship with Marian, Much’s role as confidante is way less important. So with less importance to the hero and no episodes for himself this year, his role dissolves mostly to complaining and being jealous of Marian. Poo. And what’s more, the writers have decided that it would be the absolute height of comedy to have the other characters constantly make fun of much and not treat him like an actual part of the gang. By the time the season is done, he has fully transitioned from Faithful Sidekick to Butt Monkey. (By the way, when one is making notes on a show into a tape recorder, the phrase "Butt Monkey Much" is hard to say.) To make matters worse, Much keeps on making really good points and prudent observations, yet the show seems determined to make him look like he's just a whiner. No! He's making sense! Jerky show. You ruined my favorite character!
(When I say run, run. RUN.)
By the way, I totally forgot to tell you guys last time, but the guy who plays Much is the grandson of the first-ever TV Robin Hood, who was also the second (and my favorite) Doctor Who. He’s got awesome in his blood.
(It took her a while to get the idea of 'camouflage')
MARIAN - DEAD, BABY. I’m just kidding, again. They actually did the fakeout death at the end of last season, but she’s fine. In this season, the Sheriff grows ever more suspicious of Marian and Sir Someone, and Guy capitalizes on this by burning down their house so they’ll have to live in the castle, and Marian can never refuse to see him. How romantic. Naturally, this makes spying a little hard for her, but she manages to get quite a bit of vital info to the outlaws by clever subterfuge and stepping up her seduction game to like a billion. Guy, of course, buys it hook, line, and anachronistic fishing device, and thinks she really really likes him. So when her father dies attempting to escape the castle’s prison and Marian runs away, he takes it hard. When he finds out she’s been helping the outlaws, he takes it harder. And when she tells him she was in love with Robin all along, he stabs her in the stomach. So yeah, I really wasn’t kidding when I said she was dead. I think we can safely say no one saw that coming. Except all of you now that you’ve read this. And if you looked at the pictures at the end of the last review.
(Man, everyone should get a bad guy costume next year.)
ALAN - Can I say best thing ever? Sure I can. And that’s good, because I’m going to say that Alan’s role in this season is to be given the BEST THING EVER AWARD, taking the title from the previous holder, which was… I don’t know, Patrick Bergin’s mustache or something. See, last season, they played with the idea that Alan might pinch the outlaw’s stash and run off on his own, but he decided not to. This season… Well, he got a better offer. He spent most of the first episode out of commission after getting captured running a shell game in Nottingham, and after a spot of light torture, Guy comes in with a proposition. Spy on the outlaws, and not only do I not kill you, but I’ll slide you some dough on the side. Feeling that this is his best option, Al starts spilling the beans on some of their upcoming plans. He’s careful not to reveal their secret base or rat out Marian, but that doesn’t help when Robin Hood finds him out, and they have a full-blown ass-kicking fest all over the castle. Alan finds his career opportunities limited after this, and saves his life by taking up a full-time henching position with the Gisbourne firm, complete with snazzy new bad-guy outfit. (This includes an implication that leather jackets are part of the villain ranking system.) For the rest of the season, he’s striking a balance between trying to prove to the gang that he can be trusted while still avoiding getting disemboweled by his famously unstable boss. Even better, his clever plans and outside-the-box thinking are more appreciated by Team Evil, so he's got his ego in the mix. He never falters from wanting to do good, but when forced to do evil, he'll do it well. It's great.
(Hello, the Queen of England. I am a Saracen. Let's not make this any more awkward than it has to be.)
JACK - Jack femmes herself up this year, and EVERYONE WINS! Actually, the attractiveness of Jack is kind of annoying. Sometimes up to twice an episode, Jack uses her feminine wiles to aid the gang. Anjali Jay is a very attractive lady, but she’s a brown person at the time of the crusades who has a boy haircut and wears pants. I can’t imagine the average guard would go all Tex Avery goo goo eyes on her. And speaking of her distinctive physical appearance, there’s a few scenes where Guy doesn’t recognize her. Then again, he never recognized the Night Watchman’s gender either. Maybe the revelation that Guy is blind is part of season 3. Thanks to her, the team is minus two at the end, since she decides to stay in the Holy Land, and Will stays with her, them having admitted their love for each other in the previous episode. Sure, just take the guy away as soon as he gets interesting. I’m sure your family will love you bringing home an English guy during the frickin’ Crusade. Guess who’s coming to dinner? INFIDELS.
(Part of me really wishes they did a musical episode. This duet would be fantastic.)
SHERIFF - The Sheriff got off to a shaky start this season, which had me concerned. The first episode dealt with the arrival of his sister, who he truly loved, and who died at the end, causing him to darkly swear vengeance on Hood. Oh crap, thinks I, they’re going to turn the Sheriff angsty! Thankfully, he’s soon back to his sarcastic self, the sister is quite rightly ignored as a bad idea, and he can get on with the evil plans. Such plans include suspending all of his money in a cage in the public square so Robin won’t dare go after it, staging a public behanding wherein the victim, her children, and the ENTIRE crowd watching were working for him, the suit of indestructible armor, the use of mirrors to create decoy treasure in a James Bondian trap room… Frankly, it’s impressive he had time to overthrow the king at all.
(Just visually, I mean. You have to admit, it is striking.)
His all-time crowning moment has to come in the episode “Walkabout”, just after Robin Hood has stolen evidence implicating the Sheriff in treason. Sheriff is so stressed about this that he winds up sleepwalking right into the heart of Sherwood. Coincidentally this is also the day that Prince John needs his seal or else he’ll destroy Nottingham, much to the shock of Guy, who‘s found himself in charge. So Sheriff’s in the middle of the forest, with no time, no shoes, no money, no weapons, not even his false tooth*, and he still manages to form an evil outlaw band, con his way into Robin’s camp, rob the gang blind, screw over his partners, and stroll past the torch-bearing mob into Nottingham, berating Gisbourne without missing a beat. Pure. Class.
*Keith Allen lost a tooth filming the season one finale, and they wrote it into the character by having him keep a variety of jeweled teeth in human skulls around his room. It's all kinds of awesome.
(Apparently, this was supposed to be intimidating, but it really just looks like they made the basic shape, then ran out of armor money before they finished it.)
SIR GUY - After Alan, I’m in a mood for handing out awards. So I’m giving Richard Armitage the DUDE, I WOULDN’T WANT YOUR JOB AWARD, previously held by the Wallace Beery wranglers. Armitage has to deal with the plot of the season requiring Guy to be more traitorous, murderous, and sleazy than ever, while at the same time, the writers are keenly aware of his thriving female fan base, and want to make him and Marian look like a legitimate option. It starts out by just making him appear to shower more often, but the badass decay starts setting in around episode 4, in weird ways. There's all these awkwardly forced “not such a bad guy after all” moments placed in the context of plots where he, in fact, IS such a bad guy after all. Aww, he doesn’t want to kill those little kids… so he’s sending them to be slaves at a mine! Aww, he gave Marian a pass out of the castle… where she lives because he burned her house down! Aww, he saved her from the outlaws… and he killed her dad! Really, the only totally selfless moment is when he refuses Prince John’s offer to be allowed leave Nottingham alive, deciding instead to stay and fight the soldiers at Marians urging. But that’s slightly mitigated by the fact that he first tried to use the offer to coerce Marian into marrying him. Oh, and that a few episodes later he announces his intention to use his position to “marry” her whether she wants to or not. Oh, and all the stabbing her.
(I should note that despite the show's budget and the relative ease with which mail can be obtained, all chain mail on the show is made of fabric. This is bothersome to me as a viewer and a ren fair actor.)
THE MAN - Prince John is ever a presence in this series, having entrusted the Sheriff with his plan to kill Richard. We don’t get much of a sense of John other than he’s ambitious. Except he agrees to the Sheriff’s suggestion that if the Sheriff is ever killed, all of Nottingham goes up in flames, which sets up John nicely as a ruthless baddie for season 3. King Richard himself actually appears in the finale, played for the first time I know by an age appropriate actor, somewhere in his mid-thirties. The British creative team just can’t bring themselves to play him as the full-blown asshole he was, and he’s depicted more as misguided and war-hardened. It takes a special kind of patriot to attempt to show a guy as decent while he’s crucifying the heroes in the desert. We also get Queen Eleanor again, and yes, she is the sassy. She also flirts extensively with Little John. Extensively, inappropriately, and repulsively.
OTHER MERRY MEN - The old Alan-a-Dale story gets yet ANOTHER telling here, but it’s such a neat story I can’t really fault them. Since Alan is already a character, they create an original character, Sir John, and have him as the lovelorn poor person. It’s a good episode, but seriously, if they were going to create a new character, why call him John? We’ve already got Little John, Prince John… They could have called him Sir Richard, that’s a legit Robin Hood character. There’s also a Jester, who is like the most irritating character ever. I can’t stand when they put a jester in Robin Hood. There was the hideous nutbar from the ‘91 flick, some mincing little twerp Sir Chunkula stabbed in the silent version (though fair’s fair, they were all mincing twerps in that movie.), and now this one… Whereas the other jesters were pretty accurately tiny, ugly, and possibly retarded, this jester is tall and handsome and wears a sexy costume with elaborate makeup. And instead of capering about whilst farting, does a stand-up comedy routine where he steals the “Richard the Lion-Heart” bit from Eddie Izzard, and then helps the good guys solve a mystery and then disappears forever, thank Primus.
(Queen Sassy and the Bear Patrol.)
Two other guest stars would be fabulous additions to the band to replace Will and Jack… if they weren’t both dead by the end of the season. Dammit! One of them, a fella named Carter, is introduced as a villain, with a serious revenge-on for Robin, which he gives up on pretty quickly upon learning that it’s all based on a lie. (Cutesy episode title: Get Carter.) He shows up again in the season finale, to help out and get killed. I assumed they were killing him for cheap drama, but then they killed Marian, so what the hell. The other is Queen Eleanor’s personal bodyguard, whose name (not joking) is LeGrande. LeGrande is basically Little John cranked up to eleven. Bigger, louder, wilder, and his staff has a big metal chunk on the end. The episode has many hilarious instances of Little John acting like a jealous child and competing to be the best beardy giant. LeGrande doesn’t even make it long enough to get a return appearance, dying near the end of the episode.
(I cannot even try to imagine what that must smell like.)
We also get the return of Dan Scarlet, which is still a funny name. Dan tries to get in on the social justice thing, but doesn’t quite appreciate the secretive nature of it all. After speaking out in public, he gets stabbed, causing will to wreak his bland vengeance. Bland and stupid, since he knows full well about the Sheriff’s deal with Prince John, yet tries to kill him anyway. Will’s dad’s mentor also appears, training the gang to get through the Sheriff’s booby-trapped treasure room. He identifies Will as being angry and passionate, prompting me to wonder if he’s also deaf. And this is before Dan bit it, so it’s not like he’s making an educated guess. Rounding out the good guy season is the kids from the episode “Child Hood”, who help the gang after they see Guy carrying out Secret Plotting in the forest, where they were playing Robin Hood. It’s kind of adorable, except for the prerequisite Much joke. I mean, it’s one thing if nobody wants to play Much, that’s funny. Like when nobody wanted to play Bubbles. But they don’t even know who he is. He’s a major part of the gang, you little assholes! And props to Marian's dad, the famed Sir Someone of Someplace, who spends all season languishing in prison trying to convince everyone to give up on their dreams and quit trying to bone his daughter. He balls up eventually and steals some key evidence for the gang, only to get a knife in the ribs for his trouble. Call that gratitude? 'Cos I don't.
(Robin Hood versus the Dreaded Green Screen.)
OTHER VILLAINS - Not as many guest villains as guest heroes. There’s surprisingly little done with the Black Knights, the treacherous nobles helping the sheriff overthrow Richard. The only one that gets unique attention is an old friend of Marian’s dad who Robin thinks can be trusted. Turns out he never liked Sir Someone after all, and tries to screw over the band and, of course, bone Marian. There’s also some more outside help hired by the Sheriff for his other plans, including The Angel of Death, who sends poisoned bread to the peasants in order to see if he can make a poison look like disease, and the Saracen blacksmith who creates a light yet incredibly strong suit of armor. The smith’s in it for the profit, whereas the other guy… well, look at his name, he’s clearly got issues. Also, he quotes the bible a lot, but nothing appropriate or actually about any angels of death, so he just looks pretentious. Speaking of pretension and religion, there’s also the Canon of Berkley, who takes the corrupt churchman role in the not-Alan A’Dale story, trading off “Sir John‘s“ fiancée to the highest bidder. He also kills Marian's dad. I know I said earlier it was Guy, but here's how it goes: At the time I wrote that, I hadn't seen the episode for a few months. On reviewing them again, I realized that I was mistaken, but also that the episode seems written to end with Guy killing Edward. (That's his name, by the way. If I'm going to get into his death, I might as well give him that.) I'd place good money on that episode originally ending with Guy doing the deed, but it was changed last minute for reasons discussed above.
(Missed you, man.)
Most excitingly, we’ve got a special return this season… it’s Nasir! Yes, the lovable Saracen former assassin from Robin of Sherwood finally gets another appearance, and he’s not so lovable nor not so former this time. He is, in fact, the one who arranges the assassination of the king for the Sheriff. He’s actually been sort of split up as he is quite a bit more talkative and smaller than we’ve seen previously, while his associate, who does the actual killing, is a hulking quiet type. I think being split may have affected his planning skills, though. He follows a three-pronged attack in his attack on the king. One - Make a copy of Saladin’s seal so the king will think you’re a legitimate envoy. So far so good. Two - Tell the king to meet Saladin alone in the desert for peace talks, which the king will agree to because he wants peace more than anything. SERIOUSLY? Is there even point in going on to three? Well, three is to have the big guy pretend to be Saladin and kill the king after delivering the killer one-liner “I am not Saladin!” whilst the Sheriff and Gisbourne watch from a dune, giggling. Maybe Nasir didn’t actually expect to get that far.
(Almost completely in context.)
BEST LINE RUNNERS-UP - Sheriff to Sir Someone and Marian : “Well, well, if it isn't the sanctimonious old fart... And her father.”
Much, realizing Robin suspects him of being the traitor: "What do I have to do to prove my loyalty to you? What? Tell me! What? I'll chop off my own arms! Well, one arm. Because once I chop that off then I wouldn't be able to chop off... the other..."
MUCH: "We're robbing from the rich to give... to the rich?" ROBIN: "That's right. Think of it as a wedding present." MUCH: Can't we just get them a toasting-fork like everyone else?"
"Well, here's to your dearly departed dead dad Dan." Sheriff to Will. He says this not knowing who Will is except that his father Dan is dead. So as far as he knows, he's not putting the emotional screws to an outlaw, just being an ass to a servant.
EVIL PRIEST: "As God is my friend, I swear I don't know!" ROBIN: "If you don't tell us, God won't be your friend. He'll be your next door neighbor."
"No County Park" This is actually not a line from the show, but a bumper sticker I saw while making notes in my recorder. What on earth could it mean.
BEST LINE SUPPLEMENT: SHERIFF AND GISBOURNE GAY WATCH:
“Tell me you would rather have a woman, Gisbourne. Tell me you would rather have a woman... Than this.” - The Sheriff's first line of the season (He was referring to a map of the areas they will rule after the coup.)
“Stop whining, Gisbourne. If I'd wanted a wife - I would have found one with better legs."
"Guy, why don't you ever kiss my ring?"
BEST LINE: “Oh, Guy, Marian sent you a message. She says 'I'm not coming back, get over it, and for God's sake, change your clothes once in a while.' She ran away the minute her dad died, now what does that tell you? It tells me that the crusty one was the only thing keeping her here. She's not coming back, Guy. Move on. I'll tell you what. I'll give you a kiss. Will that make you feel better? In fact, if Hood is dead, I'll give you two kisses. Come along... Gizzy gets a kissy?”
Seriously, all (unintended by the authors) gay jokes aside, that is brilliant writing.
(Still from the episode where the Sheriff's magic hat turns everyone into children. I wish.)
WORST LINE RUNNER-UP - “Pepper! Ouch!” Jack, after throwing pepper in a guy's face. Apparently the writers thought we not only couldn't figure out what she was doing, but also what effect it had on the guy screaming and clutching his eyes.
WORST LINE - “Come on now, chop chop.” Really, Sheriff? You're going to have someone's hand cut off and that's the best you can do? No, no, I'm not angry. Just... disappointed.
(But at least we have this to look forward to...)
ONE HUGE MISSED OPPORTUNITY - As mentioned, Much got the short end this year, but there was one moment in particular that bugged me, and that if they had decided to go through with it, would have redeemed the whole season as Much’s crowning moment. When the gang has been left tied to posts in the desert and it’s been hours and death is imminent, Robin and Marian begin reciting wedding vows to each other, and Much begins crying. I so desperately wanted Much to butt in at the end and say “Then by the power vested in me as the rightful Earl of Bonchurch, I pronounce you man and wife.” It would have broken the tension, been amazingly heartwarming, called back to season one and the position Much gave up twice out of loyalty to Robin, and had him bless their relationship after a whole season of being jealous. Instead, Carter turns up, apparently having snuck up unseen despite there being nothing but desert for like three miles on any side. Then King Richard marries them officially after she gets stabbed, which makes her death scene overlong and overindulgent. And the last fight would have been so much cooler if they were fighting as a married couple, and instead of taunting Guy with “I love Robin Hood,” which he already knew, she could have been all like “Robin Who? Oh, you mean my HUSBAND? SLAPPAPOW!” and his stabbing of her would have seemed more natural… Dangit, why don’t they ask me before they make these decisions?
(A screencap of the exact moment where Guy tells Marian that the best way to grieve her father is by getting pregnant. What a classy fella.)
COMING UP NEXT - Look, I’d love to give you a sweet teaser of this one, but I know squat about it. I can’t even give you a basic plot idea. It’s a bootleg I bought at the comic shop, and the back is all in German. I don’t think the movie is in German, since it’s by Hammer Films, but we’ll just have to see.