TV Review: 'Robin Hood' gets an update

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"Robin Hood"
When: 9 p.m. Saturday on BBC.
Starring: Jonas Armstrong
   

Robin Hood is back and BBC America has him. The cable network's rollicking new "Robin Hood" series, premiering at 9 p.m. Saturday, reboots the legend with a zippy, fun update.

This is a modern take on the classic character. Robin (Jonas Armstrong, above) is still a scoundrel, but one with a good heart who's manly enough to tell sidekick, Much (Sam Troughton), "This is why I love you," after Much expresses concern for Robin's safety. That's just a platonic, brothers-in-arms love. Robin's heart remains drawn to Marian (Lucy Griffiths), a spunky, independent-minded woman who can hurl a hair pin with deadly elan. She's also feisty and combative.

The series opens as Robin and Much return home from the Crusades. He finds his estate occupied. The denizens of Nottingham are oppressed by the Sheriff (Keith Allen) and his lead henchman, Guy of Gisborne (Richard Armitage).

In addition, Marian isn't quite the rebel Robin Hood is. She accuses him of putting glory and honor above sense and reason.

"Who will protect [the people of Nottingham] when you're dead?" she asks a hot-headed Robin. "If you hadn't gone away, you could have protected your people."

At a January BBC America press conference in Pasadena, Calif., executive producer Foz Allan said Marian works within the system.

"She's part of the Council of Nobles ? and tries to negotiate with the sheriff to make the world a better place," Allan said. "By night, she's kind of Uma Thurman in 'Kill Bill,' kicking [butt] and feeding the poor."

She also plays hard to get with Robin, even though they clearly have a connection.

"Even when you look at me in anger, I feel you," Robin tells Marian. "Even after all this time, you can still see into my soul."

"Five years and you're still peddling the same old drivel," Marian shoots back. "Does it ever work?"

"You'd be surprised," Robin says, a twinkle in his eye.

In addition to Marian, Robin Hood's band of merry men make their entrance at the end of episode one, but are really introduced in earnest at the outset of episode two. Little John (Gordon Kennedy) and the gang try to rob Robin and Much, leading Robin to haul out a soap box and climb on top of it.

"You are not the England we fought for," Robin lectures. "What do you think you're doing robbing him when the Sheriff over there is robbing us all 20 times over? You're skulking in the woods while he steals spirits and livelihoods."

It's almost like he's become a radicalized, politically aware Robin Hood.

"I don't know why I went 2,000 miles to fight evil when the real cancer is right here," Robin says at one point.

Executive producer Allan said Robin's world view is by design.

"We made Robin come back from the Crusades -- a vicious, difficult war with a lot of blood spilt -- saying, 'I am not going to use violence other than as a last resort,'" he said. "That makes our plots complex and interesting and difficult rather than going home, kicking the door and it's all over."

This new "Robin Hood" succeeds thanks to a strong cast of veterans and newcomers. As the Sheriff, Allen brings a sadistic glee to his part, and as Robin, Armstrong offers a nice mix of cheeky bravado and an earnest desire to do good.


TV editor Rob Owen can be reached at rowen@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2582. Ask TV questions at www.post-gazette.com/tv


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