Hercules: The Legendary Journeys and Xena: Warrior Princess

Hercules: The Legendary Journeys (1995-1999)
Xena: Warrior Princess (1995-2001)
Type: Spin Off
Group: 25

   Hercules: The Legendary Journeys was a syndicated action adventure show with a lot of differences from the rest. Set in mythical times, it, obviously, told the stories of strong man, good guy Hercules played by Kevin Sorbo. Just like in the myths, Hercule's family had been killed by the goddess Hera (see, Hera was Zeus's wife and Zeus was Herc's father and since Herc was a result of Zeus sexing up a mortal Hera didn't really care for Herc and... it's a big soap opera with the gods thing). With no family to stick with, Herc hit the road looking for adventure. With him for most of his journeys was his childhood buddy Iolaus although Herc had a couple other sidekicks pop up here and there for an episode or two.

   What made this show so different? Well for one thing it utterly remade the image of Hercules. For forever when people thought of Hercules they thought of those old Steve Reeves movies where Herc was a huge guy with massive steroid sized muscles and wearing a toga. Kevin Sorbo's Hercules wasn't freakishly muscular. He had the reasonable muscle level of, say, a pro athlete. So he had muscles but he was also a limber, lean mean, fighting machine. The old style Herc would not have been able to pull off some of the stunning fighting moves the new Herc could. And gone was the toga thing. We're talking more practical period wear for on the road - shirt and pants thank you very much.

   Another difference was the tone. The show was an action series but it never took itself too seriously. It never was campy like the old Batman series but the show would throw in a sly inside joke here and a modern day reference there. It got that action shows should be fun.

   On top of all that, Hercules: The Legendary Journeys was one of the first shows to really exploit the use of digital effects giving the show a very stylish, cool, high budget effect look. They had centaurs (half men, half horses) that looked pretty real. Not guys in suits, not stop motion animation. So, to sum up, eye popping special effects, eye popping fights and gut busting laughs. What more could you want in a show?

   Well, there is one more thing you might want. Pardon me but its true: a little T & A never hurts. Enter the Hercules spin off Xena: Warrior Princess. Xena unlike Hercules was not a god. She was a regular woman who was far from just regular. Earlier in her life invading armies had destroyed where she lived and destroyed her life as well. Result? She became like those who destroyed her life to take revenge. She became a conqueror crushing all who would oppose her. She started on Hercules going head to head with Hercules. Hercules soon helped Xena to realize what she had become and to see the error of her ways. And thus started the spin off.

   Like Hercules Xena took to the road doing good for the common people. Like Hercules Xena had a partner in the form of Gabrielle, an aspiring young bard. Xena's trademarks were her chakram (a round sharp throwing blade) and her loud battle cry. Xena's recurring foe was Callisto. Callisto was a woman whose life Xena had ruined in the exact same way Xena's had been. Xena had decimated her town and her life and Callisto was now where Xena had been before reforming.

   Both Hercules and Xena shared many recurring characters with various gods and human characters popping up on both shows. Xena also had the same attitude and sense of humor Hercules: The Legendary Journeys had.

   Xena soon actually started to out perform Hercules in the ratings. It makes sense though since, as I mentioned Xena had an edge with T & A. I don't mean that to demean Xena in any way. Lets look at the situation. Right off the bat Xena is going to pick up a lot of Hercules' audience. But unlike Hercules, this is a show where you get to see strong and very attractive women battling the powers of evil. Taking that into account you can add in two very different sets of extra viewers Hercules might not get.

   First, you are going to get extra men watching for obvious reasons. But, second, Xena ended up picking up a lot of extra viewers from the lesbian community - a group Hercules had little chance of drawing in in droves. They liked Xena partly, I'm sure, for the same reason the guys did. But they also liked it because Xena was a seriously liberated kick ass woman. Not only that but Xena and Gabrielle's relationship was left vague enough that the audience could read them as just friends or as... more than just friends. So the gay community found a cool lesbian-ish couple of heroines in Xena and Gabrielle. And that brings us back to the guys too. A little lesbian insinuation doesn't exactly make most guys stay away from a show. But the whole lesbian angle was an implied thing and subtle enough not to put off conservative viewers. Lets face it, Xena just had more stuff going on than Herc.

   At the end of the 1998-1999 season, Kevin Sorbo decided to call it quits on Hercules. The show returned the next season with just a handful of episodes to wrap the series up. Supposedly Sorbo was not pleased that spin off Xena was out performing his show. Kev, I'm telling you, you never had a chance. Don't take it personal. Its a demographics thing.

   Kevin Sorbo, comparing Hercules: The Legendary Journeys to Gilligan's Island in terms of its dramatic content, left the show to star in a new science fiction series in the hopes of gaining more respect as a dramatic actor. Mr. Sorbo, there is soooo much wrong with that logic. First of all, comparing Herc to Gilligan's Island is an unfair slam (and a slam it is - no one makes a Gilligan's Island comparison as a compliment). Like I said, Hercules was really a groundbreaking series in a lot of ways. It reinvented Hercules from the ground up. It basically invented a new genre - the comedy/fantasy/adventure series. Hercules paved the way for shows like Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Angel, Cleopatra 2525... Gilligan's Island! Geesh! And you really think the way to get taken more seriously as a dramatic actor is to do a syndicated science fiction show? Hahahahaha. Are you mad??? Wrong or right, in the general public conscience, sci-fi shows do not equal dramatic integrity. They equal just as much fluff as Herc.

   In 2001 it was Xena star Lucy Lawless's turn to say enough is enough and throw in the towel on the hero gig. And did she ever throw in the towel. With the show coming to an end they decided to REALLY end Xena, end it in such a way that any reunion movies or other such comeback nonsense would be impossible. In the final episode they killed Xena. They killed her a lot. Xena wanted to help free a whole slew of dead souls that were all enslaved. Only to do that she herself needed to be dead. Knowing that there were ways for Gabrielle to bring her back, Xena allowed herself to be killed, if trying to fight an entire army single handed is "letting yourself get killed". They shot her through with about a zillion arrows. Then they crucified her. Then they chopped her head off. Oh, then they she was cremated. Again, they killed her a lot.

   But never fear. As long as Gabrielle took Xena's ashes to a certain location before the sun set on a certain day, Xena would be able to come back. Of course once they got there Xena's spirit had to battle the evil spirit bad guy and Gabrielle had troubel too, dropping the urn with Xena's ashes off a cliff where they were hard to recover. Ooops. But of course, after much trouble the good guys won. Gabrielle was about to do what was needed to bring Xena back to full physical form, just in the nick of time before sunset. But just then Xena stopped her. The zillion souls Xena was trying to help? Well Xena came to realize that if she came back from the dead they would no longer still be "saved". Everything she had done would fall apart. To save them she had to stay dead. So as the sun set, Gabrielle did nothing and as the sun set, Gabrielle and Xena shared a final moment before Xena faded away. So... shot, crucified, beheaded, burned and THEN roped into a metaphysical contract requiring her to stay dead lest others be damned. Yeahhhh... she's not coming back in any kinda new Xena show. The very end of the show had Gabrielle heading off to adventure on her own with the spirit of Xena beside her. Was this actually Xena's real spirit or was it the piece of Xena that lived on in Gabrielle's heart? Who can say?

Other Hercules: The Legendary Journeys Crossover Links
Hercules: The Legendary Journeys and Young Hercules

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