If you were a WCW fan in the late 1990s, I can guarantee you've at least heard of "The New Adventures of Robin Hood." Every Monday night without fail from 1997 to 1999, Tony Schiavone shilled for the TNT series like a pro; his hurried pleas to "STAY TUNED FOR THE NEW ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD!" still haunt my nightmares. Oddly enough, despite the show immediately following WCW Nitro, I never stayed tuned. Call it a combination of apathy for the character himself and the show looking like a third-rate "Hercules: The Legendary Journeys," the show just didn't seem appealing. Now, 13 years older, the opportunity arose to finally see just what sort of new adventures the famed outlaw was up to and I should have probably channeled some of that teenage apathy.
Spanning four complete seasons of approximately 52 episodes, it's mind-blowing the show made it past the first season. Shot in Lithuania with production design a decade old and a likely a shoestring budget, "The New Adventures of Robin Hood" was exactly what I suspected it to be, a third-rate imitation of a corny, but fun syndicated fantasy series. Making my way through the 13 episodes that comprise this first season, I have suspicions that anyone over the age of 12 wasn't the target audience in the first place.
Set aside all notions of an outlaw in tights stealing from the rich and giving to the poor, this Robin Hood (Matthew Porretta, who was replaced in the final two seasons of the show and is now known to gamers as the voice of Alan Wake), this Robin Hood has bigger fish to fry. Joined by Little John (Richard Ashton), Friar Tuck (Martyn Ellis), and Gabri...er... Lady Marion Fitzwalter (Anna Galvin, who departed after one season). The plight of the poor and sticking it to the Sheriff of Nottingham are a walk in the park compared to what this quartet encounters in the first episode alone. After some basic exposition to introduce viewers to the characters, the tone is set that this is a very lighthearted show. The acting is broad, firmly tongue-in-cheek, and doesn't require the viewer to question character motivations. Then the Mongols show up.
Yes, you read that right. In a show about an outlaw in Medieval England, a band of Mongols from the far reaches of East Asia show up, and not just any Mongols, but a band fully trained in the 1990s favorite form of combat: second rate martial arts. These fiends menace a local village with spinning kicks and overcooked sound effects, leaving Robin no choice but to come to their aid. Strangely, no one ever questions why these Mongols look distinctly European. With enough time spent on set-up though, Robin realizes the episode is almost over, so he leads the band of young rebels on a mild tussle for their freedom.
Like I said above, it feels painfully obvious this was a show aimed at younger viewers, and if it wasn't I wonder if the creators were stuck in some sort of temporal loop where they thought it was still 1987. The series would have been an average time waster in 1987, but in 1997 it's pretty awful. The show really rests on the shoulders of Ashton, who is quite likeable despite the increasingly absurd plots handed to him each week. One would think for a show that opens with Mongols, the absurdity bar would be set high, but no, the second episode features a Viking invasion, the third episode realizes there had been two previous episodes that didn't bring in magic and hokey special effects, and introduces a minor recurring character that nearly made my mind explode in disbelief: Olwyn the Wizard played by Christopher Lee. Yes, THE Christopher Lee. Lee's natural charisma makes any episode he pops up in a little more bearable.
The series does try and mix things up from time-to-time, focusing episodes on Lady Marion, but these experiments usually fall flat. Galvin can't support an episode and her lazy performances do nothing to make what should be an important character stand out. The writing of this episode doesn't help matters, by forcing Marion to the forefront only because Robin and any other male character are conveniently captures. To add final insult to injury, once Robin is free, Marion is quickly relegated to secondary status. Galvin's replacement in season two doesn't seem that shocking by the end of the season and she's done nothing truly memorable.
When the season closes up, viewers will have been treated to (or afflicted by, depending on how you look at it) adventures ranging from Robin and his band battling various anachronistic foes, to giant, poorly animated CGI dragons. Again, younger kids might eat this up, but for older viewers, episodes like "The Legend of Olwyn" are welcome anomalies but few and far in between. This episode shows the series had promise of being merely average. A quickly incapacitated Robin flashes back to how he became a legendary outlaw and met the wizard Olwyn in the first place. The forced humor is dialed down and for once the roots of Robin Hood as a thief are employed in the form of a young bandit who encounters Robin's group. Lee's contribution as Olwyn is once again a highlight and even though the substance of the story remains a tad thin, Ashton does a nice job of creating a separate persona for his pre-legend days as Robin of Locksley.
Ultimately, "The New Adventures of Robin Hood" is a below-average offering. Hampered immensely by so-so production design and a lack of acting talent (a lot of extras are overdubbed, Leone style), not to mention the show blatantly using the Robin Hood name merely for marketing purposes. Obviously there are some people out there who loved this show, because three more seasons followed and with this season giving us Mongols, Vikings, Arabian Knights, witches, dragons, wizards, and aliens (actually not as goofy as you might think, but still corny) I bet things only got more wacky.
The 1.33:1 original aspect ratio transfer sports a soft transfer plagued by some light compression artifacts and digital noise. Color and contrast are passable, with the latter winding up much more balanced than the former. The series featured some rather garish art design and its fairly well reproduced. Some signs of interlacing are noticeable, often during action heavy sequences as well as some rudimentary CGI work. It is worth noting I experienced a few minor technical hiccups in the forms of pixelization. This could be inherent in the source material or a result of this being a burn-on-demand title from the Warner Archives line.
The English stereo audio track is well mixed, with a bit more life than expected. Dialogue is occasionally muddled, although this happens most often when an actor is overdubbed; the principal cast sounds ok. Some distortion in the audio rears its head from time to time, sometimes due to haphazard sound design (Christopher Lee's voice is awesome enough naturally, it doesn't need cheap reverb) and other times due to unknown reasons.
"The New Adventures of Robin Hood" should only be shown to children under the age of 12; for anyone else it's just cruel. A passable technical presentation from Warner's Warner Archives line at least makes it watchable. Those seeking high adventure, you already know where to look. Skip It.