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From Across the Pond: "Robin Hood" Fails to Hit its Mark

I'll admit it. I was really looking forward to the US premiere of the Beeb's refashioning of Robin Hood. I've always been a sucker for the exploits of the whole stealing from the rich and giving to the poor bandit and his band of merry men. (There's a reason Robin of Locksley has remained a hero for the ages.)

So I was more than a little disappointed by the new Robin Hood, created by Dominic Minghella and Foz Allen, which premieres tomorrow evening on BBC America. Despite garnering some buzz over in Blighty, I found the pilot episode of this modern take on the classic story to be rather lackluster. I was expecting an intelligent take on the old legends, perhaps with a little humor, and some swordfights. (I was hoping for a guilty pleasure rather than something that just made me feel guilty.)

This Robin Hood should be clever rather than cloying and, while I understand the need to make a series like this accessible, it shouldn't be accessible to the point where it's actually dumbed down. And that's perhaps my biggest complaint of the first installment. There's nothing wrong with modernization; just look at how the BBC took Dickens' Bleak House and turned it into a dazzlingly beautiful adaptation, made all the more modern by some first-rate camera work and unexpected casting choices. Robin Hood, for all of its claims at modernity, feels instead rather like a syndicated show out of the 1980s: it's at times insufferably cheesy (pay attention to all of those zooms!) and tonally it's all over the place.

It's not all bad. Jonas Armstrong (Teachers) makes a capably roguish Robin, newly returned from the war in the Holy Lands to discover his lands under the control of the wily Sheriff of Nottingham and his people more or less enslaved to this usurper. Richard Armitage (Cold Feet) is menacing as Guy of Gisborne, an enforcer for the Sheriff of Nottingham. And the Sheriff himself (played by Bodies' Keith Allen) is suitably malevolent rather than a moronic buffoon as in earlier adaptations. (Though I found his crushing of a small bird an unnecessary OTT action that was far too much of the "hey, we're being dramatic!" variety.)

That said, I expect a certain amount of intentional anachronisms in adaptations like these. Maid Marian (played by Lucy Griffiths) is now a quick-witted warrior woman who seems to be just as good with a bow and arrow as Robin. (Though I do find the Daily Express' description of her as "medieval Spice Girl" more than off-putting.) Robin wears a hoodie. A buxom babe he attempts to seduce nearly in full view of her father (who looks, thanks to casting, to be about five years her senior) has her face covered in enough makeup for the entire cast of America's Next Top Model to use.

But it's when characters engage in that sort of wink, wink, nudge, nudge humor that it just doesn't work for me, such as when a character attempts to kill the Sheriff in a later episode and offers the phrase, "I shot the sheriff." Having missed, he gets a refrain from the Sheriff himself, who answers, "No, you shot the deputy." Har har.

But perhaps I'm overthinking this too much. In the UK, the series aired at 7 pm and was intended to be all-ages fun for the whole family. However, that's not the positioning Robin Hood seems get here, as BBC America seems to want us under the impression that it's a dark, action-filled adventure with pedigree. If that's what you're looking for, you'll be sadly disappointed. But if you're looking for some mindless entertainment (and don't care for your action dramas to be particularly dramatic or action-laden), this might just hit that mark.

"Robin Hood" airs Saturday nights, beginning tomorrow, at 9 pm ET/PT on BBC America.

What's On Tonight

8 pm: Ghost Whisperer (CBS); 1 vs. 100 (NBC); WWE Friday Night SmackDown (CW; 8-10 pm); Grey's Anatomy (ABC); The 38th Annusal NAACP Image Awards (FOX; 8-10 pm); Wicked Wicked Games (MyNet)

9 pm: Close to Home (CBS); Las Vegas (NBC); Wife Swap (ABC); Watch Over Me (MyNet)

10 pm: NUMB3RS (CBS); Law & Order (NBC); 20/20 (ABC)

What I'll Be Watching

8 pm: Spoons on BBC America (11 pm ET).

It's the premiere of British sketch comedy series Spoons, in which the cast transform themselves into a series of character based on "fabulous young urbanites" in their most painful situations.

9-11 pm: Rome on HBO.

Catch up with the brilliant HBO period drama in two back-t0-back episodes tonight.

Comments

"Bleak House" was one of my favorite things on television this season. I am a big fan of British mini series and was so disappointed that they dumbed "Robin Hood" down. I was really looking forward to it but, having gotten a sneak peak at the first installment, don't know if I can stomach anymore.

The guy playing Robin is decent but I wasn't really impressed with anyone else. There's a lot of scenery chewing going on. And the "young maiden" that he makes out with at the beginning looks like she's from Laguna Beach, not Locksley. This was not what I was expecting at all.
Anonymous said…
we travelled all the way to Queens to watch this with a friend who has BBCA (our crappy cable company, which shall remain nameless [but i'm talking to *you* Cablevision] doesn't carry it). i said to my friend, "suppose it's good? we can't travel to Queens every week!" i needn't have worried. this "Robin Hood" was a big disappointment. i was hoping for something along the lines of "Robin of Sherwood" from a few years back -- intense, brooding, but maybe just a bit snarky -- with lots of subtext. *sigh* not to be. this was BOR-ing. robin was completely bland -- like a blanc mange pudding; his comic relief was not comical and certainly no relief. i didn't feel any tension at Locksley, although i do admit to being a bit smitten with Guy of Gisbourne though... he was yummmy. and Marian looked like a bit of something with backbone (and plenty of nice flesh covering all her bones)... i could sort of envision a little unwilling attraction between her and Guy... but there. i'm drifting into fan fiction because the show gave us nothing at all. i rate it: blech!
Clement Glen said…
Yes we are slightly dissapointed over here in Merry England.

As you say the writer has 'dumbed down' the story. But they are currently recording a second series.
I have a blog dedicated to a Disney live action version of the 'Story of Robin Hood' made in 1952. For me it was one of the best
versions of the legend ever made. perhaps you would like to take a peek! Its at:

http://disneysrobin.blogspot.com/
Anonymous said…
This new series is awesome! The cast and direction is surely what is needed for "decent" entertainment... Keep it up folks, this is one show that Ithink the Brits have right!

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