Movie: As a fan of the various sword & sorcery shows television has had to offer over the years, I remember one that really pushed the envelop in the syndicated market in the last decade; The Legendary Journeys of Hercules. Using a blend of off beat humor, action, and a multitude of skimpily dressed cuties, the show was (very) loosely based on the demi-god of Greek and Roman mythology. In its wake, it spawned a number of similar series that all tried to cash in on its success, like Conan but it was best known as the birthplace of Xena: Warrior Princess. Xena was a gal that showed intelligence, resourcefulness, and beauty all while taking crap from no one, even gods like Ares. Set in a mythical time thousands of years ago, Xena started off as the leader of a vast army that slaughtered tens of thousands of people to establish her reign as a conqueror. While not exactly the building block of a heroine, the efforts of Hercules gave her pause as to what she was doing and the basis for the series was Xena's quest for redemption from her sorted past. In the first five seasons of the show, a show that eclipsed Hercules in the ratings soon after debuting, Xena's edge softened just enough to establish a loving relationship with her gal pal, Gabrielle. The two walked the countryside trying to right wrongs and protect the innocent from the whims of warlords and gods alike. This review is of Xena: Warrior Princess Season 6, the final run of the woman so many viewers liked to root for, although many fans still hold out hope for a movie to this day.
Season Six was remarkable for its return to the mid run episodes of Xena Season 4 and Xena Season 3. Season 5 had problems relating to Lucy Lawless' pregnancy (greatly limiting the number of action sequences) and while that was where the decline of the Olympian Gods was most notable, Season 6 seemed to try and tie up a lot of loose ends. Two arcs of episodes were most notable this time, the final end of the Eve saga and the Norse God set; each having its own thematic value. The most argued about episodes were the final two, A Friend In Need parts 1 and 2, in which Xena allegedly met her final demise in order to save 40,000 souls (including that of her lost love) but a few other shows also had some merit above the average for the show (the lesser arc of the Caesar episodes).
In all though, it was clear the show had run out of steam in many ways since the formula used to start off the show had long been overdone and the coy manner in which the show's producers played the possible lesbian aspect of the Xena/Gabrielle friendship was being called "cheap" by fans on both sides of the issue (to me, it was a non-issue but plenty of people wanted something more definitive rather than the continuation of the fence sitting that had gone on for years). With the Greek gods out of the picture, most of the communities Xena had trampled as a warlord made right, and the various demons all gone, another season would've really shown the lack of creativity that had already impacted a number of previous episodes (typically called the "grasping at straws" efforts). Here's a list of the episodes and their originally scheduled running dates for those who appreciate them:
Season Six Episodes:
Episode 1: Coming Home: (October 7, 2000):
Episode 2: The Haunting of Amphipolis: (October 9, 2000):
Episode 3: Heart of Darkness: (October 16, 2000):
Episode 4: Who's Gurkhan?: (October 23, 2000):
Episode 5: Legacy: (October 30, 2000):
Episode 6: The Abyss: (November 6, 2000):
Episode 7: The Rheingold: (November 18, 2000):
Episode 8: The Ring: (November 20, 2000):
Episode 9: Return of the Valkyrie: (December 2, 2000):
Episode 10: Old Ares Had a Farm: (January 15, 2001):
Episode 11: Dangerous Prey: (January 27, 2001):
Episode 12: The God You Know: (January 29, 2001):
Episode 13: You Are There: (February 5, 2001):
Episode 14: Path of Vengeance: (February 17, 2001):
Episode 15: To Helicon and Back: (February 19, 2001):
Episode 16: Send in the Clones: (April 23, 2001):
Episode 17: Last of the Centaurs: (April 30, 2001):
Episode 18: When Fates Collide: (May 7, 2001):
Episode 19: Many Happy Returns: (May 14, 2001):
Episode 20: Soul Possession: (June 18, 2001):
Episode 21: A Friend In Need, Part 1: (June 11, 2001):
Episode 22: A Friend In Need, Part 2: (June 18, 2001):
There's no doubt that the Xena series was escapist fare meant for those who wished for strong women role models and a world where women were truly equals to men in terms of physical strength and power but on average, the episodes all had something to offer in terms of humor and fun as well. I didn't think season 6 was the best of the bunch but it was easily worth a rating of Recommended to fans of the genre, hampered mainly by the technical values of the DVD production and the number of filler episodes. I doubt Lucy Lawless would want to do it all again but fans can rejoice that all the season sets are now released and even with some minor flaws, it was far better a run than most syndicated shows get (with better DVD treatment too).
Picture: Xena: Season 6 was presented in the same 1.33:1 ratio full frame color that the series was shot in for syndicated television during the 2000-2001 season. For the most part, it looked better than it does currently on cable television but the set had a lot of visual flaws that I hadn't seen on a large scale since Xena Season 2. There were compression artifacts, bleeding colors and video noise, and a picture that lost sharpness many times. In the darker sequences, you could see the worst problems but fans probably realize that they aren't going to see anybody remaster this one so they can take it or leave it by all accounts.
Sound: The sound was remixed into a 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack and it sounded slightly richer than the original presentation on syndicated television. The separation between the channels wasn't much beyond the front end (with the vocals appropriately coming out of the center channel) but it sounded reasonably decent and a soundtrack was available for the season last time I checked on Amazon. As far as the clarity of the vocals, they were rarely hollow but they didn't strike me as being as good as those in Season 4 either.
Extras: Once again, the extras were exceptionally plentiful, with most episodes having interviews with either the actors (primarily Lucy Lawless, Renee O'Connor, Ted Raimi, and Hudson Leick, or those involved behind the cameras, such as Robert Talpert, Michael Hurst (of Hercules fame), RJ Stewart, Robert Field, Jane Holland, and Adrienne Wilkinson. The various audio and video commentaries included the usual gang like Lucy Lawless, Renee O'Connor, Rob Talpert, Joel Metzger, and Michael Hurst. There were a number of features like the third installment in the Bringing The Monsters To Life at K.N.B. EFX Group where the various creatures used for the show were made; a 15 minute long look at a 2004 Xena convention (complete with fan responses to various questions), a replay of some bloopers from an earlier season, a recently found Behind the Scenes look at season 1 reel that looked like a home movie at times, alternate cuts and deleted footage, a "B- Roll" to the final episode, and a director's cut for the final two episodes that looked better than the original cut.
There was also the usual CD-Rom with director and actor biographies, series trivia, a large photogallery, and a very detailed version (searchable too) of the Xena Chronicles that outlines the episodes in detail as well as the characters in the season four episodes. All of this was put on 10 discs (9 DVDs and a single CD Rom) in the same accordion case the series had been released in since the beginning.
Final Thoughts: Xena Season 6 was fun as both drama and light hearted entertainment for fans of shows that don't take themselves too seriously. The show ended on a bittersweet note for many fans but at least it didn't continue on well past the realistic life of the show. How often do we see shows that sell out (repeatedly at that) in order to squeeze out an extra season or two that really stinks (answer: far too often). Xena was a fun show to watch and her fans can now own all the episodes on DVD, although I'm sure those who would've enjoyed better production quality (like myself) might protest that a bit more care would've been appreciated. In any case, I'll miss Xena's exploits and probably pop in a disc or two from time to time myself to relive those golden days when the warrior princess ruled the syndication market like no other could.
Check out reviews of the earlier seasons: Xena Season 4, Xena Season 3, Xena Season 2, Xena Season 1 and Xena Season 5,.