Kelley and I have just finished re-watching the first season of Xena: Warrior Princess. This is the first time I’ve seen some of these episodes since they first aired in 1995 and 1996.
Wow. Those first few eps were crap. Seriously unadulterated cheese with cheap sauce and a plastic cherry on top. I’m amazed that I sat through them all those years ago. Which is an indication of just how desperate I must have been in those days for some–any!–representation of fighting women. This was before Buffy. Before Alias. Before Nikita. Before BSG. It didn’t matter that the acting of all the secondary characters was terrible. It didn’t matter that sometimes the flimsy styrofoam scenery actually swayed when someone slammed a door (like early Doctor Who). It didn’t matter that they re-used just about every background shot (some several times: that tree, that cave, those singing village women) in the first eight episodes. It just didn’t fucking matter because the baseline assumption of the whole show was game-changing.
Xena always wins.
That baseline changed everything. All those shows and films with kick-ass women we see now? We owe it all to that decision: the female lead always wins. It rearranged the pop cultural landscape.
The first time I watched, it took a few episodes for me to believe the producers meant it, and just as I was beginning to relax into that idea, the subtext started to kick in. I thought I’d died and gone to the Elysian fields. And then the writing improved, they paid a little more attention to their sets (not everything was grey), and they started letting their actors act. Then the recurring characters start to appear: Salmoneus, Autolycus, Callisto, Ares. The regular “No XXXX were harmed in the making of this episode” credits began. Xena became–in our household and just about every dyke household in the US–destination TV. Remember, this was before TiVo, and Xena was a syndicated show, running after the big weekend game, so it wasn’t safe to simply set the VCR. No, you had to be there. So we were; we built our weekends around that damned show. And you know what? It was worth it.
Watching it again on DVD brings back all those memories; it fills me with childish delight. I think my favourite episode–which is coming up soon, I hope (we only have the first 3 seasons on DVD)–is “One Against an Army.” My favourite moment in the whole series is near the end, when Xena has died on the cross and Gabrielle picks up a sword and turns into a killing machine. It gave me chills, a powerful moment when all the work both actors had done for four or five years hardened down to a single point. Brilliant.
I hated the ending of the series; it was a serious failure of courage on the producers’ part. I like to think if it were being made now, Xena would live and she and Gabrielle would unconditionally snog–but, hey, that was then. The only way they could be together on family friendly syndicated TV was for one of them to be dead. Compare it to the triumphant ending of Buffy just a few years later. But I still love the show.
I still have another couple of weeks of a couple of episodes a night before the DVDs run out. I’m really enjoying the rhythm of my days: admin stuff first thing, exercise or walk in the park, then LLF work and Other Business (oh, yes, I’ll be telling you about that soon) until lunch; then lunch and chat with K; then Hild; then beer with sweetie followed by dinner; ninety minutes of Xena; read; bed. Life is good.