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 about 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 to 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.
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Jace is an LA-based television development and acquisitions junior exec who watches way too much television for his own good and would love a TiVo for every room in the house. (He’s halfway there.) His blog, Televisionary, can be found at televisionary.blogspot.com.