In its own unique way, Xena: Warrior Princess was one of the most groundbreaking television series of the late 20th century. Dismissed by many culture-watchers before it had even aired both as a “cash-in” spinoff of the campy syndicated hit Hercules: The Legendary Journeys and just another “sexploitation” romp for teenage boys riding syndication’s Baywatch-birthed action-girl fad; the actual show wowed critics with its edgy upending of fantasy and mythology tropes and won a passionate following for its focus on richly-developed female characters. That includes a fascinatingly-observed central relationship that pushed narrative (and TV censorship) boundaries with implications of same-sex romance years before such a storyline was considered openly “permissible” on network television.
Though the series (produced by Sam Raimi and Rob Tapert) went off the air in 2001 after 6 seasons, fans have hungered to more ever since. Now, they’re getting it – in the form of a controversial reboot, whose leader writer has now offered some new clarifications about his take on the title character.
Xena is also making a comeback in the form of a comic book series from Genevieve Valentine, which will take place in the continuity of the original series featuring the incarnations of reformed-villainess Xena (Lucy Lawless) and her Amazonian bard sidekick Gabrielle (Renee O’Connor). However, Xena fandom’s skeptical eyes remain fixed on The Middleman–creator Javier Grillo-Marxuach’s TV series reboot – one which will feature a new take on the mythos, apparently with new actresses in the iconic main roles. The two writers recently had a back-and-forth published by io9, during with Grillo-Marxuach got opine on (among other things) Xena’s enduring legacy:
“Even for someone like me (and I can’t say that at the time “feminism” was the first thing I looked for in my first run syndicated action-adventure-fantasy) it was clear that this was something different, and that it offered not just the thrills and sex appeal, but also a genuinely different and, frankly, enlightening relationship at its core. Xena helped a lot of people—myself included—finally embrace the potential of female-driven shows in the genre space.”
However respectful of the original series he is, however, the Grillo-Marxuach is looking to shake things up – perhaps most notably by eschewing the episodic format of the syndicated original for the more “bingeable” format of a continuing narrative that will “remix” the Xena canon:
“It’s a delicate balancing act: You want to please the fans of the old and attract a new audience, who maybe only know the name of the show, with a story that will draw them in, regardless of their frame of reference—and one of the things I really insisted on in my pitch was telling an epic story that would be bingeable—but still feature several of the legacy characters in a way that makes sense to the totality of the story. So in answer to your question, that’s the one thing I REALLY wanted to mess with.”
On the other hand, he doesn’t feel that every element of the series is sacrosanct where the reboot is concerned, particularly the more aesthetically-risque costume choices that were thought of as the series “selling point” – before it became clear that the audience (and the scope of the series) encompassed more than adolescent fantasy fans:
“As you mentioned, a great deal of the appeal of the show lies in certain pulpy elements—like Gabrielle’s bare midriff, Xena’s leather miniskirt, Callisto’s amazing and gravity-defying… well, you get it—and it’s hard for me in the post-Brienne of Tarth era to reconcile with the idea that Xena and her friends can meet every challenge in such skimpy outfits. I think we are going to have some very lengthy discussions about how to bring those elements into the present day without missing the boat on what makes Xena exactly what she is; and how to have our cake and eat it too.”
That last element is sure to raise eyebrows among some of the series’ most passionate fans. While Xena owes its longevity and high position in the pop-psyche (it quickly and definitively eclipsed Hercules as the crown-jewel of its own franchise) to how adeptly it became more than the sum of its Frazetta/Vallejo-inspired parts; to many fans the bizarre back-and-forth between the progressive proto-feminism of its female-focused storytelling and the campy “teenage boy high-fantasy” trappings of its presentation (not just the cheesecake costuming, but also the exaggerated fight scenes and often downright silly-looking magic and monster FX) are the core of the series’ unique charm. A more tonally-consistent, “grounded” approach, perhaps inspired by the success of Game of Thrones, almost certainly sounds more attractive to present-day TV producers; but it’s likely to not be the pitch that devoted fans of a property that was often compared (favorably) to a sexier, more self-aware Power Rangers have been waiting to hear.
However, Grillo-Marxauch maintains that the important parts (as he defines them) will remains untouched:
“There are a few things that are sacrosanct: the Chakram and the quarterstaff, of course, Gabrielle’s ambition to become a bard, and—most importantly—that Xena and Gabrielle be soul mates. Like I said, I’m not monster.”
We’ll bring your more information on the Xena: Warrior Princess reboot as it becomes available.