Sunday, April 5, 2009

Robin Hood 3.0 - Palimpsest!!

(aka Cause and Effect)

Don't let the title suggest that this was anything less to the enjoyable swashbuckling I tune in for in the first place, and while there isn't the godawful been-there-done-that vibe you'd get in say Silence of the Library, it doesn't take much effort to realize this episode was told to us perfectly well last year with Dexter Fletcher/Spike Thompson and ridiculous CGI.

Robin's back on the case, stealing all the money that the Sheriff needs so badly. In desperation, Vasey turns to a foreign investor to provide the excess cash, leading to Nottingham Castle becoming the multicultural den of iniquity it's renowned for. There's betrayals, Guisborne needlessly kills peasants, and Robin escapes from a death trap in the castle in such a ridiculously James Bond manner you start to wonder if the writers are taking the piss. Vasey humiliates Guizzy and guest star of the week gives a charitable donation and promises bed and board the next time the merry men are globe trotting.

On the bright side, this plot is clearly tailored for a post-Marion Sherwood. The characters have all had hard work to ensure they're the ones we saw last week (even if, as with the original, they don't get much screentime). Robin for all his kickass outlawdom is still dangerously close to the brink, Much is getting a life of his own, Alan is still suspicious of Tuck with eyes on becoming second in comand, Little John still clearly IS second in command, and Tuck's poetic language gets on everyone's nerves. Vasey is increasingly on the back foot and desperate, prizing his own survival at even the satisfaction of killing Robin; and Guizzy is frollicking deeply in "I Don't Give A Shit" waters, treating everything less seriously than the Sheriff, revelling in the power he has, but clearly - like Robin - running on empty.

The foreigners this week are a fantatical Irish army determined to liberate the mother country - and they've had a worse success rate than Vasey, and the people of Ireland have called them all loonies and decided it's safer to be under the yolk of England than keep helping these bezerkers get them all killed. Lead by Finn, a ginger-haired, wide-mouthed, sticky-out-eared git who talks like a Leprauchan and makes me want to punch his lights out (awkward really, as he's supposed to be sympathetic) needs soldiers and is thus willing to pay cold hard cash for all the slaves Vasey can provide. Of course, this means that Vasey is technically supplying arms to Prince John's enemies - a fact Guizzy delights in reminding his Sheriff:

"Look at you," our antihero sneers, even as Vasey holds a knife to his throat, "your plans are in ruins, the Black Knights have disbanded and you're having the buy the affections of a prince who would rather see you dead. Why should we fear you?"

Unable to get any respect from... well, anyone, and unable to even indulge in a ridiculously contrived execution (even the guest characters roll their eyes and say they'll give it a rain check), Vasey is only slightly better off than he was in Walkabout. When Prince John's men arrive for their cash - which, needless to say, Robin's nicked - I was half expecting Vasey to turn outlaw himself. But, to complete the vague vibe I've been getting that this series is being inspired by Blake's 7: Trial (note how they feature the recovery from character death and the hero "reestablishing their legend") our little old Sheriff throws his black-clad second in command to the dogs. As he's dragged off to face certain death at the hands of Prince John, Guisborne vows he'll be back and, just for a second, you can tell Vasey realizes he might have made one hell of a mistake.

And this is an episode where he has already accidentally given Robin an entire army.

Oh yeah. Things are going to escalate from hereon in, mark my words.

The problem with the episode is the B-plot introducing our new regular, Kate No-last-name-so-I'll-call-her-Tollinger. Yes, a high-kicking, blonde-braided, peasant girl with an obviously doomed younger brother and an abusive, defeatist mother from the Sylvia Noble Die Already You Bitch school of parenting, Kate might as well wear a neon sign saying "NEWBIE". It's agonizingly, painfully obvious from her first words who she is, what she does and what happens to her. Compare to how they handed Djaq. The only character I can think of to have a more mechanical, by-the-numbers, who-gives-a-shit introduction is Dodo Chaplet.


A depressed, cynical girl not buying into all the hero worship around Robin Hood yet also practiced in art of unarmed combat (yet never using it when handy), she's less of a character than an equation. She's the token chick to replace Djaq, the wild card and moral guide to replace Marion, and the token love interest for Much (who, by his standards, treats her with all the subtlety of a drunken Nigel Verkoff) and provide a weak triangle with her, Much and Alan. Watch as she beats up guards. And then lets them capture her. Watch her as she stands helpless when Guy kills her brother. Watch her betray Robin for the greater good then save her. Watch her give such cretinous sermons she might as well be Gwen Cooper.

I don't know if it's the actress' fault, since she is only called upon to come across as tired and piss off, occasionally hysterical with grief. Everything she's given is subpar by RH's standards (especially given the quality of the REST of the script). It's as if they forgot to do anything but draft her scenes, as everyone seems to lose the ability to be interesting or witty around her, relying on cliches and exposition. I don't know how much of Miss Tollinger was a late addition to the show, but she seems to have been added to this particular episode simply to pad it out. You could easily edit her scenes without effecting the narrative - if Guizzy's paranoid enough to spot an eclipse is down to Robin, he can spot the guy in a crowd. She does nothing to help save him and bar reminding about the importance of individuals, she pretty much does nothing. She doesn't even get a tag - mind you, do they HAVE any to spare? - and definitely doesn't join the gang. The trailer for next week doesn't say she's any more part of the series than this one.

Frankly, they could have got Alan to drag up for all the difference it makes and in concept and execution Kate kicks this episode in the balls with the subtlety of Kroagnon playing charades.

"You see, THIS is why Robin Hood should burn at the stake!"
As is traditional, the third episode kicks off with Vasey getting out the big guns to destroy Robin Hood. But this time he's going for a different tact as he uses the superstition of the age to whip the peasants into a paranoid frenzy of anti-witchcraft! Hang on... isn't that Ducking and Diving?

Exactly the same last week because he wants to gloat about how he likes his own photoshopped covers more than anything paid professionals come up with. Apparently, The Randomness Times is supposed to be "making the week's TV guide seem challenging, esoteric, and unpredictable" than The Radio Times even though it doesn't actually talk about programs, rather the author's paranoid sexual fantasies, and only contains 200 new words per week, the rest being reprints. The most terrifying thing is that Mad Larry thinks this is his mission in life now and clearly has no intention of doing ANYTHING else. Milesy, if you're reading, fuck off and die. It will be more productive in the long run. Also, Red Dwarf is sub-Buffy sub-Moffat excrement according to the review of The North/South Divide, a show which has nothing to do with RD, Buffy or Moffat.


Jared Hansen said...

I was concerned about the whole 'Kate' thing... sounds like I might have had some reason to. It's something that vaguely annoys me in TV, the way you always need a girl on the show no matter what the consequence is for plot. Red Dwarf VII would be the ultimate example of this with some retarded producer actually believing that Lister's slightly-haughty love interest is a perfectly logical replacement for his worst enemy, and that making the switch won't effect the dynamic of the show at all.

(For me RD7 is some of the most frustrating TV ever - big budgets, glossy effects, lots of cast, inventive plots... so why the fuck are all the jokes b-grade Men Behaving Badly stuff?)

Anyway, it strikes me as nothing but a bad idea to simply try and replace Marion and Djaq, who were such wonderfully defined characters with... well, just about anybody. The instant I saw a mononymous, blond 'feisty' peasant girl thief I was just groaning because it reeks of cookie-cutter replacement character somebody's taken a whole 5 minutes to think up.

I can't really think of what I'd rather have instead, but off the top of my head I was thinking that one of the witch's daughters / students could be kind of cool - and a slightly more logical replacement given that Djaq was in a slightly 'potion/support' role of the team.

Anyway, I'll reserve further judgement until I've actually seen the show.

Youth of Australia said...

(For me RD7 is some of the most frustrating TV ever - big budgets, glossy effects, lots of cast, inventive plots... so why the fuck are all the jokes b-grade Men Behaving Badly stuff?)
I boggle, too. The only explanation I can find is Doug Nayler's revelation that he was devastated by the poor fan reaction that Series 6 got and never wanted to do RD again, but was contracted to provide enough episodes (52) for overseas syndication. His heart simply was never in S7, whereas his enthusiasm did return for S8.

I'll be optimistic and say that Kate COULD be good, but in this episode it's like channel surfing between... well, between RD6 and RD7. At least Tuck has the guts to say, after the sermon, "Ah, fuck her, what does SHE know about it?"