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Robin Hood - Season 2
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.
This DVD review is for an advanced screener copy of the second season. The review is for the quality of these discs and it may not necessarily reflect the final product. Should the final product become available this review will be adjusted to reflect any differences.
The first season of Robin Hood looked very good with its high definition shooting and 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation. Thankfully the second season offers parallel quality with some fine looking moments that definitely add to the overall appeal of the show. From wide countryside shots to interior corridors of Nottingham castle and even a focus on Robin as he's skulking about in the shadows the image is pretty good. Unfortunately also like the first season there are some flaws to be found and the end result isn't quite as satisfying as one would hope or expect.
Some darker scenes and shadows still feature a bothersome amount of grain though there seem to be lesser occasions where it's as noticeable. From the dungeons to the mists of Sherwood Forest the grain is there but it's less of a problem than it was on the previous DVD. Shadows offer some better depth and nighttime scenes are generally more stable. The colors are still overly saturated and at times they appear washed out. It's a stylistic choice rather than something that reflects on the quality of the DVD's transfer but it's hard not to bring up when discussing the video quality. Overall the second season's transfer closely resembles the first's but there are noticeable improvements.
Robin Hood is presented with two English language tracks once again. The default is a 2.0 stereo features a limited presence on the soundstage though it's suitable depending upon your needs. The 5.1 Surround Sound is by far the better of the two options. This is a program that is mostly dialogue driven but there are at least two fight scenes in every episode and that's when the rear channels really kick in. The sense of immersion isn't quite as good as it could have been but once again the whiz of arrows and clang of swords helps elevate the experience. Optional English subtitles are also included.
The first season of Robin Hood had a decent spread of bonus material and luckily the second has plenty to offer as well.
The first disc features an audio commentary for the episode "Sisterhood". Executive Producer Foz Allen, Lucy Griffiths (Marian), and co-creator Dominic Minghella who also wrote this episode all sit down to talk about it. Like the previous commentaries in the last season this one features the three talking about the episode, taking light jabs at it, and tossing in light tidbits of information that are sometimes interesting but more often than not they are random thoughts.
Disc two offers up another audio commentary to sit through. This one is for the seventh episode of the season "Show Me the Money!" The commentators this time around are Gordon Kennedy (Little John), Sam Troughton (Much), Lucy Griffiths, Richard Armitage (Guy of Gisborne), and Anjali Jay (Djaq). With the actors all sitting together watching this episode the commentary is quite active and disorganized. With no structure to it you can expect this commentary to be less informative and more about their perspective about the episode. Really though the group goes off on random tangents and talks about other things pertaining to the show rather than what's happening on screen.
Skipping the third disc we move on to the fourth where there are two more audio commentaries. "A Good Day to Die" and "We are Robin Hood" are the episodes in question and these commentaries are much like the previous ones. "A Good Day to Die" features Kennedy, Minghella, Jay, Troughton, and Armitage while "We are Robin Hood" has Kennedy, Jay, Troughton, and Armitage. In both cases the commentary on the episode felt a little better than the second but not quite good as the first. There's more information here from the perspectives of the actors and after their initial commentary they seem much more down to business. They do still have a tendency to talk over each other though so that's still a bother.
The fifth disc in this set has the remaining bonus content which includes three featurettes. "Beneath the Hood" (27:27) is a very in depth look at the second season with some nice cast interviews and discussion about the show from the crew. There's a wealth of information here that sheds light on many things that happen this season. Then again it's not like there were many unclear elements anyway. At any rate this featurette was quite interesting and it offered a lot of nice behind the scenes material. I particularly enjoyed the retelling of Jonas' story about the breaking of his foot that sent the production on hiatus for a while. Don't be hasty and look at this featurette before watching the season though; there are plenty of spoilers discussed here.
Well, speaking of spoilers I guess I really can't talk about the second feature on the final disc. It acts as a farewell to a character leaving the show and there truly is no way to discuss the focus of it without ruining the final episode. The other feature on this fifth disc also deals with the death of a character though this one is definitely one of the minor ones. Once again I won't discuss exactly which character though I will end this by saying that both features are handled nicely with some decent cast interviews and behind the scenes footage.
Robin Hood is definitely not a traditional retelling of the celebrated legend. There are many modern takes on the character and some of the known "facts" of Hood are turned on their head this season. As far as the show is concerned it's merely a lightly entertaining action affair with one-liners and cheesy fighting strewn about. Part of me almost feels like I'm watching the Kevin Sorbo Hercules series but with less personality and no supernatural elements. In the end Robin Hood isn't necessarily a bad show but it is definitely one you won't go to if you want deep storytelling and well-developed characters. Check it out if you enjoyed the first season or simply want a different take on the Robin Hood mythos.