Throughout history few tales have been as romantic or enticing as that of Robin Hood. He robs from the rich and gives to the poor, he fights for justice, and he is damn good with a bow and arrow. Frankly, everybody is familiar with the legend of Hood, his band of Merry Men, Maid Marian, and the Sheriff of Nottingham. In book, TV, and film the characters have come to life with a heavy dose of folklore and intrigue. The latest rendition of Robin Hood comes in the form of a British television show.
Robin Hood began airing in October of 2006 and was met with a reasonable amount of success. If you're curious you can catch the series on BBC America Saturday and Sunday nights or you could simply pony up and buy the DVDs. The first season of the show landed on store shelves last year and it proved to be a worthwhile endeavor for fans of adventures in Sherwood Forest.
If you couldn't tell, the show focuses on the adventures of Robin of Locksley (Jonas Armstrong) and his exploits in Sherwood and Nottingham castle. In the first season we were introduced to his manservant, Much (Sam Troughton), and fellow outlaws Alan A. Dale, Will Scarlet, Little John, and Djaq. Together they all live in the woods and attempt to take down whatever schemes the nefarious Sheriff has cooked up. If a wayward noble happens to come across their paths they strip them of what they have and dish it out to the poor. In many ways it's all very traditional but there are some changes afoot with this latest incarnation of Hood.
For starters Marian isn't quite so helpless as you may suspect. By night she masquerades as The Night Watchman and acts as a vigilante for the people oppressed by the Sheriff. During the day she plays the sweet and innocent noble's daughter who professes that she wants nothing to do with outlaws but always has that gleam of hatred in her eye whenever Guy of Gisborne strolls by. Modern elements pop up as well and these are probably the biggest detraction from the Robin Hood norm. From costume designs and features in some plots to character dialogue and miscellaneous trappings there are random bits that will make you thing "huh". These aren't necessarily bad but when the Sheriff of Nottingham creates a mini-Vegas in his castle you just know you're not watching a "tradition" Robin Hood story.
The first season's thirteen episodes varied greatly in terms of quality. While each episode's story was rather contained there were elements that pieces that tied them together. Most of this continuity had to do with character relationships and Robin's reputation around town. For the most part each episode had its own storyline and felt very formulaic and in a weekly format this isn't necessarily a bad thing but after watching multiple episodes back to back the one-shot offerings did start to display some of the show's shortcomings. Some of these nitpicks are fixed in the second season but for the most part it's much the same.
Right away the second year of Robin Hood picks up where the first left off. Robin and his gang are still out in the forest and the Sheriff is still as much of a bastard as always. Some things change early on that set the tone for this season which helps skew the focus a little bit but not quite enough to help the series break from a formulaic rut. Each episode basically has the Sheriff up to no good which causes Robin to come by, the two face off, one is put in a deadly situation in which they escape, and in the end Robin comes out ahead. Some episodes towards the end of the season offer up more dramatic moments and some plot twists but those bits aren't until the very end.
The material this season that does shake things up a little bit is actually pretty good. Marian is brought under the Sheriff's watchful eye as he's sick of her snooty canoodling with the outlaw and unabashedly lying to his face about it. Honestly, with the stuff that she gets away with it's surprising that the Sheriff lets her live considering how cutthroat he is. With Marian locked inside the castle walls it's not quite as easy to see Robin though the two manage despite the beefed up security. It makes the Sheriff look like more of a buffoon and his guards appear more inept now than ever which I didn't think was possible. This plotline does change as the season progress though so don't expect to last forever.
The Sheriff's dastardliness gets some attention this season as well with a well-orchestrated plot to kill the King when he returns to England from war. With all of his earnings from the oppressive taxes he's laid on the poor, the Sheriff is helping to fund an organization known as the Black Knights. Basically this group is the embodiment of all that is rotten of the era and they band together in order to buy an army of mercenaries and overthrow England. It's a bit of a stretch but the plot is visited upon many times and it helps create a conflict for Robin and his men beyond ye old robbing from the rich; now there's a reason to do it beyond helping the poor.
A third change for this season isn't quite as successful though it's certainly compelling enough on paper. Allan A. Dale is essentially bought by Gisborne to be a traitor amongst Robin's men. He's Guy's eyes and he gets paid to slip some information Guy's way relating to Hood's activities. While this adds a nice dynamic to the show I can't help but feel that it would have been more successful if we weren't shown the plotline from the outset. Rather than keep viewers guessing who the traitor is we see as Allan initially signs up for the job and every meeting that follows. That would have added a nice level of depth that this series unfortunately doesn't enjoy.
For what it's worth Robin Hood is a lightly entertaining romp through Sherwood forest. Its focus is on action and simple storytelling with one-dimensional characters so you're not getting much depth here. Taken as it is the show is quite fun to watch but it's a flawed experience that showcases its weakness as time goes on. The second season does adjust somewhat to compensate for these blemishes but it constantly falls back on its core of Robin Hood foiling the Sheriff's bumbling plot with plenty of fights and cheese in between. There are some diversions and twists that come in the final moments but they merely set up the action and focus for the third season.
In the end if you enjoyed the first season (as I did) then you'll find that the second offers more of the same. It doesn't take a lot of attention to understand what's going on here as the writing and depth are very light. Because of that fact this is more of a leave your brain at the door series with some fun fights and plots that almost always favor the good guys. It's enjoyable enough but your mileage may vary depending on your expectations.
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