Shiny Shelf

Robin Hood Season 3

By Mags L Halliday on 19 May 2009

WARNING! Contains spoilers!

I can’t seem to stop watching ‘Robin Hood’. Like a bag of greasy chips with a double-helping of salt, it’s heart-stoppingly bad and yet hard to resist. The swerves in tone previously noticed have become so extreme you can almost hear the gears changing. You can certainly hear the incidental music switching tone for every scene.

The problem comes down to consistency. There seem to be two parallel shows attempting to take place in the same timeslot. In one, a hero manfully overcomes his own personal demons and desires, romancing a feisty high born lady whilst doing his best for the downtrodden people of England. In the other, villains in studded black leather or layers of fur snarl, scheme and generally attempt to eat the scenery. This results in a scene of Gisbourne (Richard Armitage) and King John (Toby Stephens) out-acting each other in pantomime villainy cutting abruptly to Robin (Jonas Armstrong) feeding Lady Isabelle (Lara Pulvar) strawberries as romantic strings music slams in. As the two strands of the show become ever more distant from each other, the moments when the two worlds collide become a mess. Robin is too serious for the camp lunacy of the court, whilst the court is too silly for the pompous Sherwood.

It’s hard not to compare this failure to mesh two tones – silly and serious – with the two other BBC Saturday teatime shows. ‘Doctor Who’ tends to be consistent in tone during each story, but vary wildly from story to story – that’s one of the joys of its unusual format. ‘Merlin’, with the benefit of magic as a means of villainy, mostly managed to balance the serious teen angst with the camper moments of Anthony Stewart Head. ‘Robin Hood’ see-saws so hard that the viewer gets nauseous.

Having resolved various storylines last year – Gisbourne kills Marion, Will and Djaq stay in the Holy Land, Alan betrays the gang but redeems himself – the production is now setting about recreating various elements. Gisbourne’s sister, Lady Isabelle, plays the dual role of ‘posh woman able to sword fight torn between Robin and Gisbourne’ and ‘possible traitor to the gang’, while the vastly underwhelming Kate (Joanne Froggatt) is a villager who also betrays the gang once and then joins it. David Harewood steps in as Tuck, declaiming every line but – after the initial good scenes in episode 1 – becoming just another merry man saying ‘are you sure about this, Robin?’ every few minutes. Keith Allen takes a break to allow Toby Stephens as King John to set a new high bar in scenery chewing. He’s brilliant – preening, megalomaniacal, pathetic and insane – and one of the highlights of the season.

Lowlights – as well as the failure to mesh the two tones – are the sidelining of the existing good cast. Alan, Much and Little John are consigned to almost the role of red shirts. A few lines apiece each week, and all treated as loyal idiots. There’s also an appalling lack of logic to the plots. In ‘Too Hot to Handle’, King John decides that he will cut off the water to the peasants so that they love him when he offers them his own supply. This involved blocking off the wellspring of the river Trent – which looked more like a drainage ditch – in a cell in Nottingham’s Castle. I grew up on the Trent: it rises in North Staffordshire and is as wide as the M6 by the time you get to Nottingham. The timelines are also totally screwed within the episode: some strands of the story must take place within a day, others should take place over several days. And this is the big problem with the whole show: no-one has sat down and made it fit together properly.

I’m going to keep watching it, but then I’m also going to go over and buy a bag of chips in a minute. I know it’s not good, but it’s so wonderfully bad.

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