Earlier this year, I discovered Robin Hood on BBC America and immediately became addicted. (I should stay I discovered it because I needed to watch it for work reasons - but those homework assignments don't always pan out as rewardingly as this one did.)
I'm no more interested in Robin Hood than the next guy - the most passion I ever had for him was in the 1970s Disney animated film, followed by the Sean Connery-Audrey Hepburn classic Robin and Marian - but I was quickly struck by the pure joy of the BBC show. The pacing is as good as any drama on television - a single episode seems over in a moment. Though the show is done on a modest budget, the world it sets up is plenty involving.
And the cast is across-the-board top-notch, most notably Jonas Armstrong as Robin to Lucy Griffiths as Marian and a delectably villainous Sheriff of Nottingham played by Keith Allen.
Here's an excerpt of the article I ended up writing a few months back for Variety:
When it came time to re-create the character of Robin Hood for the BBC, writer-exec producer Dominic Minghella looked within himself for inspiration.
And he found it -- sort of.
"If I were Robin Hood," Minghella recalls wondering, "what kind of Robin Hood would I be? And I thought I'd be a pretty useless Robin Hood."
That's even if Minghella had granted himself Robin's unimpeachable ability with an arrow.
"Even though I had this super skill, I wouldn't actually want to (use it)," Minghella says. "I wouldn't want to kill anybody."
So Minghella's "Robin Hood," which airs Stateside on BBC America, features an expert bowsman with loads of swash in his buckle but one arm tied behind his back.
"I didn't want it to be Errol Flynn -- I didn't want it to be a cozy, British, safe show," Minghella says. "(But when) you've got an easy solution, but you don't want to deploy it -- what kind of character does that give you?" ...
The first season of the show is currently in reruns on BBC America, with the second season coming in the fall.
The success of Robin Hood made me more proactive in checking out BBC America programming - previously, I only went there for world news. And that's how I found myself giving Hotel Babylon a shot.
Again, my expectations were modest, since this on the surface looked like a 2007 version of Hotel or The Love Boat. But leave it to the Brits to turn the simple premise of fancy guests at a fancy hotel into something engrossing. It's not earthshattering stuff, mind you, and there's eye candy to be found, but I think calling it a guilty pleasure would be to sell it short.
Through the two episodes that I've seen, Hotel Babylon has shown it aims to be sophisticated. The scripts are as sharp and precise as a properly made bed. The performances, as with Robin Hood, are much better than the genre often gets - thanks in no small part to characters that became three-dimensional, if you'll forgive the term, overnight.
The icing on the cake so far was to see episode two graced with the presence of Anthony Stewart Head, who played Giles on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, as a suicidal ad-jingle composer. American audiences might also remember Dexter Fletcher (concierge Tony) from the 1989 film The Rachel Papers with Ione Skye - though I'll be really impressed if you also knew he was in Bugsy Malone. Tazmin Outhwaite, Max Beesley and Natalie Jackson Mendoza and Emma Pierson join Fletcher as the show's likable mainstays (even though Pierson's character is unlikable).
Two ordinary concepts that turned out anything but ordinary. They won't change your life, but if you've got nothing better to TiVo, you might check out Hood and 'Lon between now and the start of the fall TV season in the U.S.