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Cult Corner: In Defense Of ‘Hercules’ & ‘Xena’

When we talk about streaming culture, we’re usually enthusing about what’s new, but one of the best things about streaming is how it’s made old and obscure cult hits available to a new generation. Presenting Cult Corner: your weekly look into hidden gems and long-lost curiosities that you can find on streaming.

We’re all hyped up for the big Halloween premiere of Ash Vs. Evil Dead, but the new series isn’t producer Sam Raimi‘s first foray into the wild world of television. In the 1990s, Raimi gave us such fun fare as M.A.N.T.I.S. and American Gothic, but the biggest success he had was with Hercules: The Legendary Journeys and Xena: Warrior Princess. Now, I realize that the super campy shows are riddled with cheesy moments, nonsensical plots, and an astounding lack of respect for Greek mythology and history, but they are still wonderful timeless entertainment.

That’s right: I said Hercules and Xena are timeless.

Hercules: The Legendary Journey started out as a series of four “made-for-TV” movies that starred Kevin Sorbo as a very “all-American” take on the Ancient Greek hero Heracles. The show loosely adapted Greek mythology to reinvent a tale of grief and atonement as a goofy fun adventure show. After the first four films were a success, Raimi and his team launched it as a regular series. Late in the first season, audiences were introduced to the bewitching Xena (Lucy Lawless), a wrathful warrior princess and Hercules’ most dangerous human adversary. Xena became so popular that she earned her own spinoff show, Xena: Warrior Princess. The series followed Xena and her friend Gabrielle as they traveled around, helping people in a bid to win redemption for the warrior’s past sins.

Both shows garnered a cult audience that relished the fantasy and the humor on display. While Game of Thrones approaches mythology and medievalism with grim sincerity, Raimi’s shows didn’t care if they were historically inaccurate. The show was overflowing with tongue-in-cheek pop culture jokes. The timeline put its mythic heroes in the path of both Jesus Christ and Julius Caesar. Aphrodite was a bubbly California blonde who swanned around in what looked like Frederick’s of Hollywood garb. Both shows constantly contradicted themselves and never seemed not to care. For example: In the very first Hercules movie, Reneé O’Connor plays a Trojan princess named Deianeira. In the next film, Tawny Kitaen plays Hercules’ wife, who is also named Daianeira. Then, O’Connor returned to the Hercules universe as Gabrielle, her character on Xena: Warrior Princess. Basically, Hercules and Xena didn’t care about getting things right; both shows were just there to be fun.

Ironically, the endlessly anachronistic nature of both Hercules and Xena is what makes both series timeless. The shows were never in tune with the trends of their era or at peace with the annals of history. The effervescent tongue-in-cheek tone of both shows maintains its relevance — because it wasn’t relevant to begin with! This may be a complete contradiction, but both shows are as delightfully daffy to watch in 2015 as they were in the 1990s.

Hercules and Xena also make more sense as shows when you compare them to the rest of writer, director, and producer Sam Raimi’s oeuvre. Just as the Evil Dead franchise thrills to poke holes into the horror genre, Hercules and Xena walk the line between paying loving tribute to fantasy and mocking its self-seriousness. Bruce Campbell popped up repeatedly in both Hercules and Xena as the mercurial “King of Thieves” Autolycus. Now that Lucy Lawless is joining the world of the Evil Dead, it almost feels like all of the Raimi shows somehow exist in the same screwball universe.

All of Sam Raimi’s shows seem to scream at their audience, “Lighten up! Have fun!” This complete giddy abandon might mean that some people write the shows off, but in every episode of Hercules or Xena, you can find something that’s going to make you smile, something that’s going to help you escape, something that will undoubtedly entertain you (even if it is the shoddy CGI). That’s not unimportant; That’s actually the noblest thing a television show can do.

[Watch Hercules The Legendary Journeys on Netflix]
[Watch Xena: Warrior Princess on Netflix]

Previously On Cult Corner:

Cult Corner: Toast Back To The Future Day With The Documentary Back In Time

Cult Corner: Sleepaway Camp Is The Problematic Slasher Movie That Gets Scarier With Time

Cult Corner: Caprica Was The Battlestar Galactica Spin-Off Too Good For This World

Cult Corner: Season Three of Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries Just Shimmied Onto Netflix

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