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Maid Marian And Her Merry Men:
The Complete Series Two
cast: Kate Lonergan, Wayne Morris, Tony Robinson, Danny John-Jules, and Howard Lew Lewis

creator: Tony Robinson

147 minutes (U) 1990
Eureka DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 7/10
reviewed by Jonathan McCalmont
Maid Marian and I have something of a mixed history. I got into alternative comedy at an incredibly young age and by the time this series appeared I was watching Blackadder, Red Dwarf, The Young Ones and all the other sitcoms and sketch shows that came from that first generation of British alternative comedians. So, when Maid Marian And Her Merry Men was announced I was incredibly enthusiastic and excited but, somehow, the series itself never lived up to those expectations and I stopped watching it, convinced that it was silly and just 'for kids'. As a result, it was with some apprehension that I approached this DVD.

The first thing that surprised me about this series was the sheer range of the writing. Over the years Maid Marian has acquired a reputation as being one of those shows that was 'too good for the kids' because it featured loads of jokes that would go over their heads. With many of these types of pieces it is easy to see the writers pulling the strings as humour and 'zany' characters get stuck into a basic narrative with adults getting the odd sly wink and post-modern reference sent their way. Indeed, Disney used this strategy extensively in the 1990s when, in films like Mulan and Aladdin, they cast comedians as sidekicks, to breathe humour into what would otherwise have been pretty straightforward family action films. However, where Disney's films always felt slightly cynical and formulaic, Maid Marian seems to go out of its way to avoid using a formula.

One of the most surprising things about Maid Marian is the sheer range of the comedy on display. Tony Robinson steers the cast from puns to slapstick through musical comedy, postmodernism, knob gags and scatological humour whilst retaining the focus and edge to write an episode that features an absolutely vicious satire of Comic Relief. Always silly, always funny, Maid Marian And Her Merry Men is delightful.

Robinson glowers beautifully as the Sheriff but despite giving himself most of the best lines, Robinson can't help but have every scene stolen out from underneath him by the sheer physical presence of Forbes Collins and the adorably warm-hearted stupidity of Mark Billingham and David Lloyd. However, despite (and perhaps because of) the quality of the acting and writing on display whenever 'Ye Baddies' (as the end credits refer to them) are on screen, you can't help but feel that Maid Marian is lacking some ingredient that would instantly make it a classic.

That lacking ingredient is the series' central relationship. By choosing to cast himself as a baddie, Robinson reveals what is also evident from watching the series; namely that he found it more enjoyable to write 'evil' dialogue than he did to write 'good' dialogue. The fact that Robinson never completely gets to grips with his goodies is evident in the extent to which he underwrites the secondary characters meaning that Little Ron, Rabies and Barrington are never anything more than one-dimensional characters. Barrington in particular seems to not have a personality as Red Dwarf''s Danny John-Jules is reduced to playing the Rasta as himself. The lack of attention devoted to the good characters combines with the series' understandable focus on the good guys to inflate the relationship between Robin and Marian to the point where it comes to dominate most of the episodes. The problem is that while Robin and Marian are great characters in and of themselves, Robinson struggles to find a way for them to interrelate. Shying away from any internal power struggles or romantic subplots, Robin and Marian spend their time bickering. Or, to be more exact, Marian spends her time insulting Robin meaning that Robin looks like a pathetic victim and Marian stops looking like 'little miss bossy-boots' and more and more like a shrill bully. Something not aided by Lonergan's overly theatrical delivery. With the series' central relationship systematically misfiring, Maid Marian And Her Merry Men never completely satisfies.

A funny and whimsical piece of kids' TV, Maid Marian has enough to keep most grown-up comedy fans happy. There are some wonderful performances and some great jokes but somehow it never quite comes together. The series comes spread across two discs with some fun extras and a comic. However, despite being a luxurious release, the price is lower than that of your normal six-episode comedy series. Well worth a look.

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