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176 of 188 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars "Robin Hood" loses Marian/Plot/Fans, November 29, 2009
This review is from: Robin Hood: Season 3 (DVD)
THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS

There are many things you can do in a "Robin Hood" retelling. The BBC's version of the legend has proved beyond the shadow of a doubt that killing off Maid Marian is definitely not one of them - though I'm sure many of us could have told them that *before* they actually went through with it. Prior to the airing of the third season of "Robin Hood", Laura Burrows of IGN interviewed Jonas Armstrong (Robin) on the upcoming series, with emphasis on the departure of Lucy Griffiths. She ended her article with this prediction:

"In total, the actor made light of Griffiths' quick exodus and did his best to throw us a few bones for the third season, but it seems that the writers may be scrambling to fill in the gaps made by a missing love interest and that the cast will be flying by the seat of their pants, acting scene-by-scene, until they came come to grips with an unsteady storyline." (August 4, 2008)

Burrows' prediction was spot-on. Although there are plenty of note-worthy things about Season Three, the show has lost most of its charm - not just because of Marian's death, but due to the complete restructuring of the show itself by new management. The man responsible for the decision to kill Marian (series creator Dominic Mingella) played no part in this season, credited as "creator" in the opening credits, but contributing nothing to the directing, writing or storylines at all. This is distinctly odd considering the self-congratulatory tones he took in various interviews and on the Season Two DVDs, in which he calls Marian's death an opportunity to "rock the show to its core," to "see a darker side to Robin," and to "open up new storytelling possibilities." If he was that enthusiastic about killing off Marian, why didn't he stick around in order to see his story through to its end?

Whatever the reason for his departure, there was a palatable sense of disorganisation in the Tiger Aspect/BBC studios in regards to "Robin Hood." Little effort was put into promoting the third season, the official website wasn't updated until a few days before the premiere, detailed plot synopsises were released prior to episodes airing, and the premature release of the DVD box set in the UK ensured that the final episode was leaked onto YouTube long before it was scheduled to appear on television. Interviews with the cast members were oddly evasive on the subject of Marian's death, but though a "close-mouthed policy" seemed to be in place, Richard Armitage made his voice heard, stating in no uncertain terms that he had grave concerns about the decision to kill Marian: "I think [the writers] are playing with fire."

All this behind-the-scenes trouble inevitably leeched the quality of Season Three considering that the show was passed on to a new batch of writers (only two of the thirteen episodes were penned by writers who had worked on the show before) who were clearly unfamiliar with the preceding storylines, and had little idea of what to do with the fallout of Marian's death.

For simplicity's sake, the following review is divided into the good, the bad, and the ugly.

The Good

As always, the brilliant cast of actors throw themselves into their roles with one hundred and ten percent, transcending the material they've been given and churning out urgent and believable performances despite the ridiculousness of the plots they're stuck in. The original cast members have incredible chemistry together, and by this stage have been working together for over three years. Such a history means that they are imminently watchable, even when they're being painfully under-utilized. This ensemble cast of talented actors, the characters they inhabit, and the performances they deliver are the number one reason to watch this show.

In terms of storylines, there are plenty of intriguing twists and turns among the "Team Castle" cast. A guilt-stricken Guy has swiftly become a loose cannon, and the Sheriff decides to cut his losses and rid himself of his once-loyal henchman. When Prince John (brilliantly portrayed by Toby Stephens) finally enters the scene, he soon has the two of them at each other's throats by promising Guy the position of Sheriff if he rids them of the current one.

Also in the mix is Guy's sister Isabella (whose existence contradicts two seasons worth of Guy insisting that he had no family at all, but never mind), an enigmatic presence whose loyalties are questionable and who arguably has the most important role this season as she instigates the power-struggles that drive the overarching plot. Richard Armitage and Lara Pulver capture the sibling dynamic perfectly, and their physical similarities mean they could easily pass for brother/sister in real life. For the most part, the "Dark Side" plot works very well.

There also seems to have been a bigger budget this time around, resulting in higher production values. The costumes are significantly improved, as is the general scope and atmosphere of the show. And someone has finally realised just how beautiful their surroundings are, for now there are plenty of establishing shots that exploit the gorgeous forest scenery. Speaking of eye-candy, this is the most beautiful cast since The Tudors and perhaps the best way to watch the show is to simply ignore the plots and enjoy the view (though despite the presence of Lara Pulver, male viewers may find themselves a bit short-changed with the loss of both Lucy Griffith and Anjali Jay).

Finally, this show has always provided plenty of laughs. Like how the entire population of England doesn't seem to notice that Tuck is black, or how Prince John's secret weapon ends up being a lion that's so decrepit that it can't even walk in a straight line, or how Kate is slightly out of sync when chanting along with an angry mob. Robin invents the first hang-glider and then defies the laws of physics with it; and Kate performs CPR on somebody whose injuries don't actually require it. And as always, a raised hood is an impenetrable disguise; and hiding behind a twig or a sapling will render a grown man invisible. Good times.

The Bad

As fond as I am (or, was) of this show, there's no denying that the writing is nothing short of abysmal. Although any one episode may serve as mindless entertainment, close inspection - or even "mild" inspection - reveals some of the sloppiest scripts ever committed to the screen. Many storylines are raised only to go nowhere, dialogue is often nonsensical, continuity is non-existent, logic is thrown out the window, characterization is butchered, and (as a result of all this) talent is squandered.

Anachronisms, silliness, and a dose of cheesiness were all part of the fun of "Robin Hood" right from the beginning, but in season three, the writers/producers lost sight of why people tuned in. I (and I'm sure many others) watched for the magnificent cast and the range of intriguing, poignant, complex relationships that they managed to forge between their characters: namely the warm camaraderie of the outlaws and the delicate balancing act between Robin, Marian and Guy. In season three, all this has been flushed away. Even the important relationships that *do* remain intact are given little to no attention (Robin and Much are practically strangers now, and there is no indication whatsoever that Allan worked with Guy for most of last season. Marian is hardly ever mentioned. Oh, and remember Will and Djaq? Nobody else does). In lieu of meaningful emotional connection, the show no longer has any real heart.

Rather, many plots rely on characters acting irrationally and against their own established personalities. Robin and Isabella's relationship ends just as incoherently as it begins. Kate flip-flops between anti-Robin sentiments to simpering fan-girl for no apparent reason. Guy leaves Isabella to drown in a dungeon and then can't seem to understand why she hates him so much. Much and Allan spend several episodes infatuated with Kate, yet have little to no reaction when Robin hooks up with her instead. For a monk, Tuck condones some rather morally dubious things. Allan saves Little John's life, only for John to immediately turn on him when a highly-untrustworthy person suggests that Allan is a traitor. Robin states that he implicitly trusts the man who killed his wife, and yet isn't prepared to give one of his own men the benefit of the doubt. Archer leaves his half-brothers to die after they've saved him from the noose, but then decides to join the team after Kate throws a tantrum. Even the extras behave inexplicably: a mob enthusiastically chants for Robin to be burnt at the stake, only to jump around cheering when he escapes two minutes later.

Um...is everyone a bi-polar schizophrenic with short-term memory loss? The swiftness with which characters declare their intentions, make foolish decisions, change their minds, assign blame, leap to conclusions, change their minds again, act rashly, and forget what happened three minutes ago is just mind-boggling, and I can only imagine that the erratic shifts in behaviour will be even more pronounced when episodes are seen in succession on DVD.

This choppy storytelling has never been more apparent than in what is known as "the flashback episode". With absolutely no foreshadowing whatsoever, the writers suddenly introduce a complex back-story between Robin and Guy that accumulates in the revelation that they share a half-brother. Neither man has ever mentioned their dramatic joint-history before, and the new information is relayed to Robin and Guy via Robin's long-lost father, who convinces them to save their long-lost brother, so that they can defeat Guy's long-lost sister. I can't believe I'm not making this up.

(And I've just realised why Robin gets over Marian's death so appallingly fast: if the writers had portrayed him grieving realistically, then his alliance with Guy would have been even more implausible than it already was).

Yeah, I know that the past two seasons were rife with their fair share of silliness, but by this stage, the show suffers from "mood whiplash". The writers are working in a context in which Marian's murder is hanging over everyone's heads, yet the producers' apparent desire to cater to a wide target audience results in the most erratic combination of content and tones I've ever seen on a television programme. It swings wildly between gritty drama, slapstick comedy, kiddie-friendly action/adventure, and melodramatic soap opera. Alongside vengeance, torture, adultery, murder, abuse, seduction, attempted rape and even mild incestuous overtones, are goofy child-friendly antics like hang-gliding, lion-taming, gladiator-fighting, and ninja-star throwing. At one stage they even stoop to gross-out jokes, wherein Tuck climbs up a sewage system and into a recently occupied privy.

Essentially, the show doesn't seem to know who it's for. Some parts are too dark and violent for children, and others are too preposterous for adults looking for a reasonable continuation of the serious tone the show set for itself with Marian's murder.

The Ugly

The departure of Will and Djaq left two vacancies in the outlaw gang. These were filled by the much anticipated Tuck and the dreaded "feisty village girl" Kate. Tuck initially acquits himself well, what with his enigmatic past and unclear motivations, but is soon rendered just another face in the crowd. Although this character was in a perfect position to act as a mediator between Robin and Guy, preaching the themes of forgiveness and atonement, he just ends up being Robin's PR spokesman with a tendency for impromptu speeches. What a waste.

As for Kate...well, you know you've got problems when a character's defining attribute is abject stupidity, and her only purpose on the show is to be the Mandatory Female. Whiny, pushy, sulky, petty, hypocritical, shrill, needy, dim-witted, arrogant... there's nothing even remotely appealing about this character, and her inability to do anything helpful, say anything pleasant, or be anything other than a complete liability gets very old, very fast. After her idiotic behavior gets her brother killed and her family's business destroyed, the outlaws inexplicably invite her to join the team, and we're subjected to faux-Marian stomping around Sherwood, blundering into trouble, emasculating the outlaws, and single-mindedly pursuing the only goal the writers bother to give her: become Robin's girlfriend. Even more nauseating, the outlaws seem to be under the impression that she's (in their own words) "amazing" and "brave and compassionate" and "a treasure," despite Kate never doing a single solitary thing to deserve these platitudes. Can you say blatant Mary Sue?

Oblivious as to how obnoxious she is, the writers give her way too much screen-time and eventually relegate her to the role of Robin's rebound girl, following a general theme of women going completely gaga over Robin. See Marian: dead because she couldn't contain her love for Robin in front of a crazy man with a sword, or Isabella: perfectly sane until the moment Robin dumps her, at which point she instantly reverts into a complete lunatic.

I know that not every female character in a show aimed at young people can be a positive role model, but it would have been nice if at least ONE was.

(Seriously though, the victimization of women on this show gets immensely disturbing after a while. Not only do we have Marian's stabbing at the hands of a man who claimed to have loved her (a scene that Dominic Mingella called "the consummation of Guy and Marian"), but also the fact that Isabella goes evil as a *direct* result of domestic abuse and her dysfunctional relationships with Robin and Guy. She is ultimately cast as the irredeemable villain, despite both men inflicting unprovoked violence on her several times. Kate's instantaneous hatred of Isabella is the result of her inevitable jealousy over Robin, and when left to her own devices, Kate is merely a damsel-in-distress who gets threatened/arrested/kidnapped practically every episode, requiring a male character to rescue her from her own staggering incompentence each and every time. Even the prominent guest-stars Ghislaine and Meg are both sacrificed on behalf of men they are trying to protect.)

Ultimately, the biggest disappointment of Season Three stems from the fact that the new writers don't seem to have much affection for, interest in, or even basic understanding of the characters they've inherited, and many of their storytelling decisions are just...well, "mean-spirited" is the only word I can think of to describe it.

Why were Will and Djaq written out of the show in such an unsatisfying way, never to be seen or heard from again? Why would Robin enter a relationship with the (married) sister of the man who murdered his wife? Couldn't the outlaws have been given something - anything! - else to do besides run around after Kate like a bunch of harangued babysitters with a disobedient child? Was it entertaining to see Isabella suffer a mental breakdown after a lifetime of domestic abuse? Was it meant to be fun watching poor Much get his heart broken by his best friend and a shrieking harpy? (After his passionate rant to Robin last season about how he's not appreciated, it was a bitter pill indeed to watch him reclaim his dignity from Robin only to sacrifice it all up to Kate).

If Allan had to die, would it have been so hard to let him go down in a blaze of glory instead of a heartless, meaningless Red Shirt death? After ignoring him all season, the writers have him shot in the back on the side of the road, failing in the attempt to deliver an important message, and dying in the belief that his friends consider him a traitor. What a pathetic and hateful way to get rid of one of the show's most popular characters.

Little John...was he even in this season? Was it really necessary to introduce the ridiculous plot device of the half-brother, a gimmick that required the restructuring of canon itself? Why was so much time wasted on hooking Robin up with Kate in a relationship that was never going anywhere, was void of any chemistry, and which played out like a bored rock star finally caving to a desperate groupie? Why Kate, period? The show gains nothing from her presence, and her aggressive, childish pursuit of Robin is just cringe-worthy. And Guy...well, I'm still speechless over what they did to him.

None of these storylines are particularly entertaining, instead each one lies somewhere between "annoying and pointless" and "way too dark and depressing for a family show".

Maybe I expected too much; but given that the writers were handed the legend of Robin Hood as well as one of the most talented ensemble casts in living memory, this show had the potential to be the best retelling of the story ever, something that was sabotaged by an onslaught of terrible creative decisions, starting from the moment Guy plunged that giant sword into Marian's abdomen. This was the first and biggest nail in the show's coffin, and to this day I cannot understand how Dominic Mingella could have deemed Marian's murder an appropriate and entertaining "twist" in what had previously been such a fun, light-hearted show. When did Marian getting murdered by Guy EVER seem like a good idea? What on *earth* was this meant to achieve? I'm sure that for many, this show died with her.

At times, this season does manage to capture some of its past magic (Guy versus the Sheriff; Prince John; Guy/Meg; Robin's reunion with Marian), but the new stories are a significant step down from previous seasons, especially since the new characters are emphasised at the cost of our old favourites (check out the cover art on the DVD: the fact that Kate's image is significantly larger than Guy's is the perfect visual image of everything that's wrong with season three). The BBC blamed poor ratings for the cancellation of the show, but unfortunately the writers had already put a lot of effort into setting up for a forth season, meaning that Season Three feels more like setup for the future than closure on the past.

But it came as no surprise to me when "Robin Hood" was cancelled - by this stage the Powers That Be had systematically removed everything from the show that made it worth watching in the first place.
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Showing 1-10 of 20 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Dec 1, 2009 1:48:47 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Feb 13, 2010 7:54:39 PM PST
R. M. Fisher says:
It's just occurred to me that there may still be some confusion over the reasons why Lucy Griffith left the show. To be honest, the whole thing is still rather shrouded in mystery.

After Marian was killed the BBC released a press release which stated that Lucy wanted to "pursue opportunities in Hollywood," leading most people to believe that Marian's death was written because of Lucy's decision to leave the show. However, it is easy to ascertain that Lucy did *not* go to America, and her resume is suspiciously empty in the months following the end of "Robin Hood Season Two".

Furthermore, co-creators Dominic Mingella and Foz Allen seem perfectly happy to take responsibility for Marian's death, as one can see in the DVD extras of Season Two, which they cite "shock value" as one of the reasons for her death.

For those who wrote into the BBC to get some answers, the following email was sent out from Sandra Brandist, Commissioning Editor:

"Our aim was simply to tell the best story we could imagine and create a story that felt engaging and surprising for the audience. We felt that Robin Hood mattered most to our audience, and what mattered most to Robin was Marian...and therein lay the most compelling and dramatic climax to the end of Series 2.

Robin Hood is a returning drama series that we hope will be entertaining families for years to come. In order to achieve this we need to make difficult decisions to ensure the series survives, and that there's room to introduce new characters and new storylines."

(Obviously, their attempts to "ensure the series survives" didn't work out too well for them. Killing off all the main characters in an attempt to extend a television show is a bit like a hungry man cutting off his own arm for food and then dying from the blood loss).

Finally, Richard Armitage (who plays Guy of Gisborne) was not at all shy about sharing his thoughts about the decision to kill off Marian.

"Richard Armitage has admitted that he was shocked when he discovered his Robin Hood character would murder Maid Marian (Lucy Griffiths). The actor, who plays Guy of Gisborne on the BBC drama, told us that producers were "playing with fire" by murdering Robin Hood's iconic love interest in the series two finale. He said: "When I read that I phoned the writer and said, 'What the [expletive] are you doing?!' He said they wanted the most shocking storyline that's going to rock Robin Hood. This is what they decided to do." (October 20, 2008)

(Read the whole thing here: http://www.digitalspy.co.uk/tv/a133104/armitage-opposed-maid-marian-death.html).

Posted on Dec 2, 2009 8:47:26 AM PST
E. A Solinas says:
Thank you VERY much for the warning. This really was a disaster, wasn't it? And the feisty village girl sounds like a sickmaking character.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 2, 2009 1:13:41 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Dec 2, 2009 1:14:26 PM PST
R. M. Fisher says:
Thanks for the comment. In many ways Kate is a microcosm of the good/bad aspects of the show. They bring in the talented and well-respected Joanne Froggatt to play the role, and then sabotage her every effort with terrible writing. Having completely ignored the "show, don't tell" adage in regards to her character, the writers aim for "spunky", but never get beyond "shrewish." Like most things on the show, it was potential that was never realized.

Posted on Dec 6, 2009 8:28:18 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Dec 6, 2009 8:35:09 PM PST
MJG says:
I agree with everything you said about the writing though I didn't think Kate was quite as BAD as you described her; however, you are correct when you state that this show died with Marian's death. What is Robin Hood without Marian? I have only seen Lucy Griffiths in a bit part on a Masterpiece Contemporary on the US side here on PBS recently. What was the big career move that had her die when they could have had much MORE drama had she and Robin, married, had to escape from a maniacally jealous Guy who lost her and was really hell bent on Robin's destruction for taking the only woman he ever really loved away from him?
I also think there were things introduced in the other seasons that could have been brought back that the writers did nothing with, i.e. - Guy's illegitimate child by the servant girl in the castle at Nottingham - remember the baby he was going to leave out in the woods? Whatever happened to that kid?
What about the gal who Much got together with in the past and who they sort of hinted at a future romance? Why would he so suddenly forget that gal and just want to take up after Kate? And there was no real rivalry or romance between Kate with Allan or Much to cause both of them to go hanging after her like puppies. Also, to have Robin just easily forget his love for Marian to want to start smooching around with Isabella and Kate was ridiculous - though I also found it distasteful in the first episode of season one when he was smooching a gal upon coming home to England and then they never brought her back into the picture ever again either once he saw Marian again. It sort of made Robin to have the Tommy Steele/Finian's Rainbow Leprechaun outlook on life to me - when I'm not with the gal I love, I love the gal I'm with....
Also, it really bugged my husband and I that in season 1 Robin explains that his Saracen bow was brought back with him from the Crusades with King Richard - then in this season all of a sudden he has it with his dad as a little boy. Hello? I agree - the writers writing for this season apparently didn't bother viewing the other two seasons. The fans could have written better plots than the writers did. I agree with you that it is a tribute to the wonderful acting skills of Armitage, Keith Allen, both Armstrongs, etc that the ridiculous plots were pulled off with enough watchability and believability as they were capable of delivering with such inferior scripts.
The death of Allan a Dale was horrendous - the killing of a major, loved character without any significance - agree with every point you made on that, as well as Guy's death. Good review all the way. I especially agree with you about Tuck's ambiguous moral leanings - as a Roman Catholic in those days, especially one who should have been a PRIEST as the legend states they took him in for their spiritual needs as well as for friendship, this Tuck doesn't act the part of a faithful Catholic much at all - especially when he doesn't offer any spiritual comfort or help in the last passing of Allan, Guy or Robin. If he were not a priest, how could he have offered to give Guy confession in the earlier episodes of this series? Only a priest can absolve sins in persona Christi, according to Catholic dogma. Ergo, no reason at all for the BBC not to make Tuck a priest - then they could have shown him giving Robin last rites - but no, can't have any of that religion sort of thing on modern television today, no sir. And I agree that the middle age Catholic would have noticed an African monk (again, there was no reason not to make Tuck a full fledged priest as he is in the LEGEND's tradition) in their midst but the BBC history revisionists doing this series have loved that sort of thing all along in this series. Even the silly bible translation episode seemed to be just a 'filler' episode since Armitage was off filming Spooks, apparently. Couldn't they have had an episode that actually furthered the plot of the conflict of the merry men rather than more anti Catholic blather from this bunch? When I crack open my modern day copy of the Douay Rheims, I find that I get an indulgence for reading my Bible fifteen minutes a day. Geez, do you think the Church was really that against people reading it in their own language all along? Most people before the invention of the printing press just could not afford a bible. The admonitions were against bad TRANSLATIONS because of what St. Peter says in his epistle about wresting the scriptures to your destruction and the end of the Apocalypse's admonitions about changing/adding/subtracting from the scriptures - having your name stricken from the Book of Life, etc. I thought that episode, as a Catholic, was ridiculous and offensive, but then again there's been plenty of anti catholicism, the religion that is 'popular' to hate and has been for quite some time, in this show, all along.

Posted on Dec 23, 2009 1:44:51 AM PST
I totally agree with you on everything, especially about Kate. I could not stand Kate and could not fathom what Robin would see in her or how he could so easily forget Marian. I kept hoping she would get killed, but instead everyone else died. What a depressing last episode.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 13, 2010 5:26:06 AM PST
I have had the last 4 or 5 episodes on my TiVo for awhile now and was considering just deleting them. I think I will end up watching them just from these comments. I would like to see how the story plays out. The Robin Hood legend is one of my favorites and while I loved the first two seasons, I agree whole-heartidly with your review. Do you think that Ridley Scott's new Robin Hood may have had something to do with the cancellation as well?

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 13, 2010 3:04:40 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Jan 15, 2010 12:33:59 AM PST
R. M. Fisher says:
If you've made it that far through the series, I would definitely recommend watching episode 9, 11 and 13. These episodes contain some very good scenes amidst the dross, and the actors go all-out. (Though episodes 10 and 12 are rather painful).

I doubt Ridley Scott's version had anything to do with the show's demise; I think cancellation arised out of poor ratings (in Britain the first episode of Season Three had 5.62 million viewers; by the finale, this had fallen to 2.19) and the fact that someone in charge presumably realised that a forth season would have meant commissing a show called "Robin Hood" that had no Robin Hood, no Maid Marian, no Guy of Gisborne, no Sheriff of Nottingham, no Allan-a-Dale, no Will Scarlett, no Saracen and (according to Sam Troughton, whose character survived the show but who wasn't interested in returning) no Much. I doubt "The Archer and Kate" show would have been a big success.

Posted on Jan 19, 2010 1:33:40 PM PST
What a wonderful review! Thank you.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 25, 2010 2:33:49 PM PST
M. Thompson says:
This review said it all. What a complete disappointment of a good show. The first and second seasons were brilliant, up to killing off Marian of course. I did actually like the character of Tuck, but they did not use him near enough in the show. It does end poorly, and I was very angry with their choices of killing off Robin and Allan. The sheriff got his, but they did not have to kill off Robin. Hopefully they do not actually try to continue on without any of the main characters. Why the writers chose to dismantle some good stuff is very baffling.

Posted on Mar 20, 2010 7:19:33 AM PDT
GrimmSister says:
Well put. The show's plot lines flirted with this type of disaster from the beginning, but managed to skirt disaster until Marian's death. Whether you think it's a good thing or not, people like sexual tension in what they watch--remember "Moonlighting"? That happens to have been the one element in this show that kept a continuously-developing story line going. Frankly, I suspect the writers knew that they would eventually have to deal with Marian choosing Robin publicly (hello?). They had to decide how to handle it, and chose as their model the Fox show "24," which received audience acclaim for its shock value. What the "Robin Hood" crew missed is that they didn't have much else to work with if Marian died, and failed to CREATE something--anything--comparable in the third season to replace it. I couldn't agree more that it has been a terrible shame to waste the talent and potential of these actors.
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