Sunday, August 23, 2009

The BBC's Robin Hood

Warning! Here there be spoilers!

I wish I knew someone over 13 who willingly watched the BBC's Robin Hood but not just to perve at Richard Armitage. Come on there's got to be someone! I'm busting to discuss it with an impartial audience. My Armitage Era began after the series ended so I've been on a Robin Hood DVD rampage.

Watch me brood

This tale needs no introduction being one of those enduring family favourites. Adventure, romance, colouring-in books and action figures. The Armitage gazer in me can't stop watching fanvids of Guy of Gisborne, the role Richard plays dressed like an 1980s rock god, but the other part of me is crying out at the injustice of it all. Help! Robin's been robbed. Someone's stolen his credibility and screen presence.

It's driven me to do a little research. I kept thinking "Why is Robin such a bore? He's a watery soup nobody ordered." It's not the fault of the actor. Everyone in this production does great with what they're given. So what went wrong? I've concluded that he's a 10 year old's action hero, and he breaks all the rules for A Sympathetic Hero.
The first inklings I had were from realising that 2D cartoon Robin had more depth. I loved it as a kid, and it kept my cousins quiet too. This is the one where all the characters were drawn as animals so Robin and Marian were foxes and Prince John was a lion. I don't like this golden memory tarnished! When you find yourself hoping Disney fox Robin saves the day, but wish that BBC human Robin had never returned from the Crusades, it's time for a rethink.

Instant tantrum cure

Robin's archery skill irks me. I know, I know, it's supposed to be his drawcard, but they use it as a get-out-of-jail-free card. It's too easy for him to get out of any sticky situations. He never hurts. He's as static and simple as a plastic superhero. So Guy has to fight like a drunkard otherwise Robin et al wouldn't get away from every scrape. The heavily guarded castle is their playground. There's always a conveniently located loo or garbage chute they can use. Guards tumble as if they're just semi-animated toy props. It's worst when Robin gets near the Sheriff. This should SO never happen. His only defence are his one-liners, and yet Robin can't kill him. Why? "I've lost my taste for killing". Oh please. At least get some leverage on the guy, not just strut and leave. Later this pathetic excuse grated so much they changed it to "Prince John will raze Nottingham if we kill him".

Let out your pain, man

Robin also needs inner struggle to appear more fleshed out, but he's so idealistic that nothing peeks through. "King and country! Sheriff's corrupt? I'll oppose him from the forest! Away from Marian? So be it!" No tension, no journey. All his choices come too easily, and he becomes a plot device rather than the eponymous hero we want to be or to have. The pilot was great because he battled on, misunderstood by everyone. Coming back from war he sees everything's gone belly-up, yet he's the only noble willing to challenge authority or speak for the people. Everyone else just tells him to shut up and cover his eyes. Nobody but his servant backs him. It's all very Hero, but after that, someone steals his mojo.
Gee, Brain, what are we going to do tonight?
The same thing we do every night, Pinky - try to take over the world!

The Sheriff and Guy may be dastardly, but they're so proactive. They see where they want to be in 2, 5 and 10 years time. Even if they get trounced worse than Pinky and the Brain at least they got off their asses and did something. Initially Robin's all puffed up with "the Sheriff must be stopped!" but he never picks to bat first. After getting outlawed all he ever does is stumble on the evil plots accidentally, shoot some arrows and pinch money. This "oh no what's the Sheriff done this time" mentality means he doesn't drive the narrative, and this buries his Hero status.
Even towards Marian, Robin never does much except play peeping tom. He left her behind on his 3 year Crusade for 15 minutes of glory, so at the start of the series we're already biased against him. It doesn't help that he laughs at her clandestine efforts to feed the starving of Nottingham. "Now I'm here, you're safe to go back to your embroidery." What's his solution to their relationship problems? "Run away with me to the insect-infested forest milady, and if you're lucky, not get rained on". As if! Not to mention he's as faithful as an escort. He'll snog anything in a skirt, and yet we're supposed to believe Marian's his one true love? Please.

Marian wished Robin wasn't watching at the window

What else kills Robin's credibility as the romantic hero? Guy. Sounds blasphemous to say, but it's a major mistep to give him more than a few seconds screen time. He's way too good at stealing...sympathy. When he's around, Robin's feelings for Marian seem like casual whimsy. The writers made Guy a tortured, yearning, conflicted villain. The costume department gave him black leather lace-up pants and metal buckled leather jacket. Armitage gave him smouldering screen presence and towering height. They should never let him too close to Marian. It gives the writers another reason to show him semi-naked, killing Robin's hopes for love-interest plausibility. With Marian in the castle, Guy has power, purpose, opportunity and angst. He may be a snake, but he's a romantic redemption-seeking reptile! He tries to win her by protecting her from the Sheriff, giving gorgeous gifts, admitting his ambitions to restore his family's former glory and dropping hints about how he'd be such a good husband. At the first sign of weakness, he pounces in proposing. Robin has no chance.

The Guy that launched 1000 shippers

It stunned, shocked and angered lots of fans - not that I condone it - but ... I can see why the writers did 'you-know-what' to Marian. Guy/Marian was overwhelming Robin's ability to Hero. He was getting totally pathetic, and not in a good sympathetic underdog way. As much as I love my Guy, this confuses the focus of the show. Don't spear me. Robin, a centuries old legend of rebellion for the helpless masses had lost his credibility. Something had to give.
Luckily the writers kick-started series three with a Robin full of self-doubt, anger and disappointment. He'd lost the trust of the villagers and had to reprove himself. Guy couldn't steal his thunder anymore. Robin was damaged goods, struggling to do the things he once took for granted. Yeah baby! The plots and scheming got a bit contrived sometimes, but nothing new there. At least Robin was doing the Hero thing and moving the show forward. This started to sour toward the middle, and I lay blame on this character:
Kate wins my award for 'Most Hated Love Interest in a TV series or Drama'. Every time she got into danger I found myself fantasizing how she was getting written out. Whenever she caught a cold or ran in a long skirt I muttered "Die, die, die..." How can you back a Hero who falls so quickly for such a shrill melodramatic childish freak? She grates on the nerves like a biting yapping jumping chihuahua. The writers cataclysmically ripped the show apart to restore Robin some sympathy, drive and chance for change. And THIS is what he does with it? Even Much and Allan fall for her too. In what universe is this believable? Not even this one. Please let there be fan fictions out there where she meets a long-awaited end.

Robin loves my pottery and bad temper

What's wrong with her? She has all the maturity of a tantrum-throwing brat with only two catchphrases. The first one is "You fancy her don't you?" even mid-battle. Wrong priorities. My goodness, there are bigger things at stake than whether Robin has kissed her today. How does she think Much and Allan feel about her lusting after Robin in front of them? Grow up.
The other catchphrase is, "He killed my brother!" Their situation sometimes calls for co-operation with enemies against a common threat. Yes he killed your brother, but in the gang everyone has suffered worse, join the queue kid. She herself betrayed Robin before, yet expects special treatment. The gang have been through more than two tv series. This substitutes well enough for character development, but the fact they think highly of her undermines that.
At one point Little John remarks to Robin how how 'special' she is! Compared to whom? Brave Djak who knew medicine, biology, chemistry, physics, Saracen weaponry and language? Or freedom-loving Marian who was their eyes and ears in the castle and among all the nobles, had Guy dying to please her, and the admiration and love of the villagers? I'm not sure which is worse: a weak-willed Robin with no power to bring change, or a Robin who throws all his blood-spilt Hero's Sympathy away for a childish brat.
Tracking Robin and Guy's push-pull for chest-beating and romantic dominance has shown me what can build or kill a protagonist. It takes light and several grades of shade for a plausible hero. I'm sure there are people who disagree with my opinions in this blog entry, but that's the cool thing about having a mixed bag of characters. You can pick and choose the flavours you like.

So again...anyone over 13 who saw Robin Hood but not just to perve at Richard Armitage?


Maria Grazia said...

And with this review of Robin Hood you are definitely become "a new member of the ... congregation!" Sorry, just quoting Dawn French / Vicar of Dibley talking to RA/ Harry at her door after their first rendez-vous. Have you seen Richard as Harry in Vicar of Dibley? That's another example of his unique ability in performing completely different personalities that you CAN't miss. Good review!

Nat at RA FanBlog said...

Um... I am over 13 and watched RH just to stare at RA, so I don't qualify for an unbias conversation. I have, however, met a few "Team Hoodies" on youtube (vs. "Team Leather") who watch it to gawk at Jonas Armstrong... although I don't know WHY. Sure he's cute, but his eyebrows drive me crazy. I know, I know. A person shouldn't be judged by their brows, but his are always in that weird pushed down-with-the-ends-pushed-up expression. Do you know what I'm talking about!?

I did enjoy your review! :)
The writers really did make Robin a wuss.
Gizzy couldn't help but steal his thunder with those smouldering good looks and passionate rants. I never thought about the writers being forced to ax Marian just to take away the attention from Gisborne and give RH some real motivation.

And then there's Kate. I agree with you completely. Annoying. (I saw that actress in "Lorna Doone" and she plays an annoying character in it as well and feel sorry for the actress.) Poor season 3. I loved Guy in it, but the rest of it was a bit of a mess.

Plus the Sheriff looks like Billy Joel.

Starheart said...

Thanks for the feedback Maria, yeah I've seen him in the Vicar of Dibley, adorable huh. Especially with the glasses on.

Starheart said...

Hi Fanblog,

Actually I don't know what you mean about the eyebrows...but the fact that you're noticing stuff like his crazy eyebrows shows that the character doesn't engage!!!!!!

Yeah RA as Long-Haired Guy was the only good thing in S3, though i still try to give points for the 'attempt' at the start to bring new life into it with the additional characters, however train-wrecked it ended up.

mulubinba said...

Excellent review Ragtag!! In this family we had varied opinions.
a) Teenage daughter and friends loved Robin and hated Guy.
b) Son loved Marian
c) I liked Guy and disliked Marian excessively - I loathed that entire Guy/Marian dynamic as she just didn't deserve him. Robin started to shine a bit in S3. (I have to say that I would have been happier to have seen Guy in an absolutely torrid affair with a female with equally reprehensible behaviours to him. A very, very naughty man would have been more attractive then one who was constantly humiliated by a silly young woman IMO - I notice you chose one of the more provocative screencaps of Guy with folded! Just imagine if the show had produced a female worthy of him!).
d) OH liked the sheriff's humour but the show soon bored him to tears so he stopped watching.

if I'm honest, I only watched this to see what RA could do with the role - I wasn't that thrilled with the rest of the show or the other cast members except for Keith Allen. I never understood the hype in the RA fandom for Guy although I certainly think RA was impressive and masterfully portrayed the tormented soul that was Guy. I think that RA was the odd man out in this as his performance was so so good compared to the others. If we had seen a mediocre, one dimensional Guy, Robin may have had more of a chance to shine. RA was too talented for this show IMO, even if he did look good in leather.

Starheart said...

Hi Mulubinba,

Thanks! Agreed about the absolutely torrid affair though the 'equally reprehensible female' role some might say was filled by the Sheriff!! Poor Guy. If you look at the leather, the closest woman would be the Sheriff's sister. She was pretty good with a whip and a snake. Too bad she didn't stick around. Guy would give new meaning to Whipping Boy.

RA was the odd man out wasn't he? Sometimes I felt Richard was operating on a different universal acting dimension compared to the rest of them. I saw a fanvid yesterday of JUST Robin and Marian (they lied saying there was Guy in it) and it confirmed my suspicions how much more convincing Robin was just from the absence of Guy.

Avalon said...

"Gee, Brain, what are we going to do tonight?
The same thing we do every night, Pinky - try to take over the world!"
That was cute..i liked that.

Avalon said...

Perfectly agree with you about Kate

Starheart said...

Avalon, you must be the only other person i know who knows about pinky and the brain, yay!

Anonymous said...

I know Pinky and the brain as well ... and I had a big smile on my face when I read it in the review.

Great review, I aggree to it almost completely.

And yes, I know some people over 13 who watched the show without adoring RA. BUT ... they are under 20.
Everyone over 20, who is slightly reasonable, must simply admire Guy and the way he is played by RA.
Yes, it does the show no good and I absolutely agree with you that it makes Robin look so much smaller.
But I think that's the problem with all well-written villains combined with excellent actors. The heroes loose the battle ... *sigh*


bZirk said...

I don't know why I never commented on this, but I guess I'm doing it now. :D

You totally nailed the fundamental problem with this series. Uh, yeah, it was the writing all along.

Oh, and believe it or not, I also know about Pinky and the Brain. My kids watched it when they were little. I would love to say I watched it when I was little -- well, I guess that's true if we're not strictly referring to age -- but I don't lie very well.

Starheart said...

Thanks Bzirk, i guess it's hard to tick all market appealing boxes and not make one of your characters a bit of a drip. I wish i could say i watched Pinky and the brain as a kid as well. Sigh.

ladykate63 said...

Found your blog via mulubinba's...

I am definitely over 13 (let's say ... over 43 ;) ) and totally hooked on Rh right now. I'm a Guy-fan first and foremost and I'm sure RA's looks have something to do with that (though honestly? he doesn't do very much for me in VoD...) but mainly it's the character and the performance. However, I love pretty much everything about the show, except Kate (bleagh!) and some overly cheesy moments like that retirement-age lion in S3 Ep 5.

I actually have to disagree on Robin. While I'm not a huge Robin fan and the character irritates me at times, I think he was far from pathetic and is actually a far more complex character than he's often given credit for. It's pretty clear as the show goes on that the glib, nothing-touches-me charm is only a mask under which lurks an often dark personality. Robin is genuinely heroic, noble and altruistic -- but he can also be incredibly arrogant and self-centered, mean-spirited to those who love him (witness his treatment of Much and Marian), intolerant of others' moral foibles, hypocritical in his pretensions to treat the lower classes as his equals, and absolutely ruthless when it comes to defending the things that really matter to him (King Richard and the gang). In "For England!" (2x06) he's prepared to slaughter a roomful of Black Knights to stop the anti-Richard conspiracy. I think the storyline of Robin and Guy as mirror images of each other in some ways was very well and subtly done.

Re the lack of chemistry between Robin and Marian: I think they have some very sweet moments, but they do lack a passionate connection, and I actually wonder if that was deliberate because it has to do with how the characters are written, not just the physical chemistry. I actually don't think Robin is that incorrigible a womanizer -- it's more that (1) he is very walled off emotionally, and (2) he is someone who at all times places duty and the Cause above love. Marian (who is a fascinating and very complex character in her own right) is torn between two love interests -- a good and noble man who shares her ideals and her cause but will always put that cause ahead of her, and a man to whom she means all the world but who is also unprincipled, on the other side of everything she cares about, and basically murders and tortures people for a living. (Except that she senses that he has the potential for something better.)

I loved most of the other characters too (the outlaws, the Sheriff, even the one-ep characters... in Season 3 Kate sucked but Isabella and Prince John were awesome IMO).

A lot of people who watch RH for Richard complain about poor writing and ridiculous storylines. I actually think (as a professional writer) that the writing was mostly excellent in terms of characterization and overall storylines, despite ridiculous moments that you'll find in almost any action/adventure show.

So far I've gotten about a dozen friends into RH, all of them well over 13 and fairly well-educated people, and they're all quite amazed at how much depth the show and the characters have.

Finally, if you're interested in some good RH discussions with people over 13 who aren't watching just for RA-perving, please check out my Robin Hood forum, The New Robin Hood! In particular these threads:

Guy's personality

Robin's character

Understanding Marian

Would love to see you in some of the discussions, too! Joining the forum is very easy; just click on "Sign up" at the top of the board to create an account with Yuku (the hosting system) and then start posting!

Unknown said...

Actually, for an anti-hero fan, I thought young Armstrong did well with his RH character. And showed some chops, too. Considerably younger than our favourite anti-hero, but "villains" are easier to play.

Also much liked young Lucy's Marian. She showed some nuance there.

And as for the Other Armstrong (Alun's son), memorable. Will be watching that career.

Not much to say about Kate, that hasn't already been said. "Meg" would have played that one better.

Isabella-far too theatrical and stagy to fit in with the more relaxed "modern" cast...

Remaining a fan of Mr. Armitage, and deep into Spooks.But, for RH, perhaps we oughtn't to dismiss the rest of the cast, d'ya think?

Unknown said...

PS. Just discovered this site. Very interesting questions/comments. Late, as always, to discovery of RH,VoD, Impressionists, and Spooks. Keep up the good work.

Starheart said...

Hi Judith, i'm glad you like it. Oh no! There was never an intention to dismiss the rest of the cast. :( Perhaps I should have elaborated further instead of just putting: "It's not the fault of the actor. Everyone in this production does great with what they're given"

My criticisms of Robin as a weak 'hero'-type stem from the writing - though that is also in contention among the fans (see earlier comments from LadyKate).

Thanks for commenting...i just noticed there's a problem with the font colour after having switched to a new layout.

Unknown said...

Oh Ragtag, I did not mean that as critical-that's the problem with mail/comments! Actual intentions don't quite come through! Not quite the same as face-to-face or even voice contact!

No, I really like the views and perspective you put out there. Anything to open out the discussion. Please keep going....

ladykate63 said...

Hi Judith! *waves* Really enjoying your comments. Check out my RH forum too if you'd like to read (and hopefully participate in) some good discussions!

Unknown said...

will definitely tune in to your forum. Thanks for the info!

ladykate63 said...

Great -- let me know if you need any help signing up (I'm at

(And Ragtag, don't forget us on the forum! *waves*)

Starheart said...

Oh good! Yes it's hard to tell, though I guess it's great actually for discussion kickoff. It's nice to still receive comments on a post from last year! RH with all its pros and cons makes for lively discussion.

I haven't forgotten LadyKate! :) But I'll be taking a break from the net (the horror!) while I move stuff around.

ladykate63 said...

Hi Judith, are you "jfmadore" on the RH forum? If you need help please drop me a line (