The show started off with a series of five made-for-television movies, most likely designed to test the readiness of the market for a series, and it did so well that the series was made as a mid-season replacement. Hercules was shown as a kind, compassionate man who never took advantage of others using his strength. He assisted people in need, usually people that were victims of the gods or other supernatural forces, since he felt a sense of obligation to do so. His father was Zeus, the king of the gods, and his mother a regular human, so he was caught between both worlds. His step mother, Hera (Zeus' wife) was always attempting to kill Hercules using whatever means necessary, and this led to a lot of people getting hurt because they were pawns in the epic struggle between these two powerful forces. In the original movies, Zeus was played (somewhat badly) by actor Anthony Quinn but that character was downplayed when the series itself started.
As one of the most popular shows in syndication history, the show was somewhat preachy in terms of morality, but a fun ride on the camp wagon, if you catch my drift. After season one, a spin off series, Xena: Warrior Princess, found a huge audience and both shows had large followings (Xena was a bit darker most of the time, but that was in line with the character's past), outlasting all the critics predictions about the campy, quirky humor used to draw in audiences all over the world. Episodes for both shows play on the Sci-Fi Channel, and you can find very detailed information about those episodes there or on the official Hercules website as well as the following brief overviews:
Movie 1: Hercules and the Amazon Women: (April 30, 1994): A small village requests that Hercules helps them with monsters that are killing off the townsfolk in raids. When Hercules and his sidekick, Iolaus, arrive, they find very suspicious circumstances surrounding the problem. Apparently, the women of the town left the men and started a new way of life. Hercules gets captured, his friend is killed, and he finds out that Hera is behind the problem. Can Hercules convince everyone that they need each other to survive or will Hera win? Lucy Lawless played one of the Amazons here, foreshadowing her rise to fame in the Xena series.
Episode 1: The Wrong Path: (January 16, 1995): When a vengeful Hera slays Hercules' family, he forsakes his kind ways and blindly seeks retribution until he is moved to rescue a helpless village from a demonic snake-woman.
The show's strong point was that it never took itself too seriously, even when preaching the virtues of friendship, loyalty, tolerance, and justice. The ladies would appreciate seeing Kevin Sorbo prancing around in tight leather pants with loose or non-existent shirts, getting all hot and sweaty while there was also plenty of eye candy for the guys (Cory Everson's cleavage and ass come to mind that there was a whole lot more as well). The special effects were cheesy, as was much of the writing but it was all good fun without too much thinking needed to appreciate the situational aspects of the show. Season One established the basic characters and situations they'd get in and later seasons would get lighter in terms of what happened more often than not. The movies themselves were slightly different than the weekly episodes in how Hercules wasn't quite as refined in them.
If you're looking for some silly humor and are willing to dispense with historical accuracy, this version of the mythological character of Hercules is pretty easy to take. You can watch it with just about anyone who isn't a bible thumper and have a good time. It's hard to believe that the show is nearly ten years old at this writing since it seems like only yesterday that I watched it on television. Unlike Xena: Warrior Princess, it looks pretty good by any reasonable standard in terms of picture, with the sound well done too. If you enjoy escapist fantasy shows, this will be at least worth a rating of Highly Recommended with true fans probably rating it higher.
Picture: The picture was presented in its original 1.33:1 ratio full frame color. It looked surprisingly good for its age and while there were moments with a soft focus, some grain, and minor mosquito noise, most of the time it looked like it just aired on cable. The worst problems took place during scenes at night, particularly the Ares and Vanishing Dead episodes although others were not perfect either. In all though, it was worlds better than the Xena boxed sets have been so far.
Sound: The sound was remixed into a 5.1 Dolby Digital English soundtrack and it sounded much richer than the original presentation. That said, the bass was sometimes a bit distorted on my home theatre setup and some of the time the vocals were hollow. The music has never sounded better and the vast majority of the episodes were very clear.
Extras: The best extra was the various audio commentaries by Kevin Sorbo and Michael Hurst (Iolaus) on some of the episodes. I would've preferred they both talk about the show's themselves more, and maybe some background trivia about what went on behind the scenes. As it was, since so much time had passed since making the shows, neither of them appeared to remember all that much about what took place (forgetting names, specific information, and the like). Still, there were worth listening too (and watching in the case of the video commentaries they were derived from). The boxed set had 8 discs altogether, 7 DVD's and 1 CD-Rom. The CD ROM had Director and cast biographies, a trivia game, a database of trivia called The Hercules Chronicles, direct access screens, and a Hercules screen saver. There was also a collector coin and a contest entry form (ends May 31, 2004) for a trip to Greece with Kevin Sorbo. The DVD case was a fold out style with all eight discs included (when fully opened, it was over four feet long). The discs came out easily this time but not so easily that I worried about them coming loose on their own.
Final Thoughts: I was a fan of the show when it first came out and my first instinct was to write a book on each episode as though it were an individual movie. I was cautioned against that since fans will undoubtedly know what happened when and newbies will not want to read spoilers. Suffice it to say, the whole show was a lot of fun to watch and as long as you're not a Greek historian, it should appeal to the lowest common denominator in all of us. Yes, it had its share of violence and innuendo (perhaps more than its share) but it was well made and the boxed set will serve fans well. Season Two improved on the basic formula and had a host of great characters, like Bruce Campbell's king of thieves, Autolycus (a recurring character in both Hercules and Xena thankfully), and the good natured poking fun at itself made even the most preachy moments bearable. In short, lots of yuck for the buck!