Maid Marian and Her Merry Men: The Complete Series Two Review
Marian: “But we’ll win. One day England will be free and people won’t have to pay unfair taxes, and school dinners won’t make us throw up. Swimming pools won’t stink of chlorine and girls will be able to play football at school. And who do you think will get these things done Robin?”
Robin: “Erm…The Football Association.”
In my series one review for Maid Marian and Her Merry Men I spoke in some detail about the various bits and pieces that made the show so enjoyable. Because series two is very much the same in approach I shall refer the reader to the first review so that they can understand where it’s coming from.
When we last saw Marian and her band of robbers they were just about getting by in their own, hopeless way. As we return to Sherwood Forest and meet up with our favourite gang of bandits that actually existed we find that they’ve not grown a great deal and for the most part they’re still, well, pretty hopeless. This time though it’s not just the wicked King John and the Sheriff of Nottingham that they have to worry about, but the arrival of some naughtier, cunning and above all stupid foes.
Everyone could see a second series of Maid Marian and Her Merry Men coming a mile off; its only difficult task was to better the first series. The formula is the same as before, sticking with its modern day references and jokes that are so silly you’d be hard pressed not to laugh at them. Still, for the second series Tony Robinson would spice things up with the introduction of two key - and recurring - characters, which would further shake the foundation of British mythology as we know it. First of all is nephew to King John, Guy of Gisbourne (Ramsay Gilderdale). While legend tells of a villainous character that once rivalled Robin and subsequently got his head cut off, here we have a complete opposite: a twenty seven year-old man with the mentality of a child who still calls his mother “Mummy”, has the boundless energy of a six-year-old and enjoys playing a variety of games that most grown men would shy away from. Slightly dim and loud to boot he’s more of an annoyance to his uncle than he is to Robin, Marian and company, and this of course places another nice spin on the series. Ramsay Gilderdale, who Blackadder fans may recognise from “A Christmas Carol”, puts in a similar performance here, so be sure to have plenty of patience for his deliberately overbearing take on the character, which includes yelling a lot and, in a highlight moment, singing (done in a dodgy Lou Reed style) as he tries to woo Marian. Nevertheless he’s good at what he does, and that’s in making children laugh and having the adults among us remind ourselves that we can still be kids at heart too. Though maybe not as stupid…
It’s toward the end of the second series that Marian gets a foe that bears far greater impact, due to the fact that she used to attend the same school as her. ‘Rotten’ Rose Scargill (Siobhan Fogarty) appears in the first two-part episode of the series as a character who goes on to be a major antagonist: traitorous, two-faced, shameless, but attractive, she worms her way through life at the expense of others. What makes Rose interesting however is that she’s not entirely bad; in fact she loves Robin Hood and wishes to start his very first fan club, open museums and spread the word, though sometimes she’d be happy if she could just get him taxidermised. It’s Marian who is the real thorn in her side, and vice versa. Neither trusts each other but both will accommodate if it means getting something out of it. Siobhan Fogarty is a nice addition to the cast, primarily because the series wasn’t heavy on female characters, aside from one or two recurring village folk. With a female baddie of sorts it opens up several possibilities that would soon enough be exploited. Fogarty moves about with a confident sexuality, and it’s this aspect she plays with a lot, as someone who makes the use of the power she has, ultimately making men susceptible to her advances. Of course series two doesn’t completely go adult on us, but it does seem to largely accommodate an grown up audience who by now were enjoying the series alongside their children who were having some of these gags fly so high over their heads. And so we have room for a little innuendo, and until I saw Fogarty’s debut episode recently (a pop-charged ode to Robin) I didn’t realise just how playful some of these song lyrics were. But that’s its charm.
Kate Lonergan, Wayne Morris, Danny John-Jules, Mike Edmonds and Howard Lew Lewis are well settled into this series as our heroes; little has changed in terms of their overall performances, though certain characters have been a little more fleshed out than others. Robin’s wardrobe has been made all the more outrageous, with the character seeming to have something to wear for every occasion. I imagine Morris had a blast going from thread to thread, whilst somehow looking good and silly at the same time. With the second series Robin has hit legendary status as a heartthrob outlaw whose popularity has been boosted by Smash Hits reader’s polls. Rabies, who has only been known for his dim nature and strength gets an episode all to himself when he falls in love. The cast chemistry has always been such a massive part of the series, though it’s clear that Lonergan and Morris were getting the most attention, and understandably so. Lonergan’s vivacious personality is wonderfully endearing, especially we she goes into her overly excited speeches, while Morris continues to be simply brilliant as the hapless Hood. In his commentary for the pilot episode, Tony Robinson mentions that he’s surprised Morris never became huge after the series. He echoes my sentiments exactly: Morris is a magnificent comedy performer who later on would continue to get better and better. Certainly you’ll never encounter another Robin like this – a true one of a kind. After the first episode Tony Robinson takes a notable backseat this time around and as a result we don’t get as many of Nottingham’s wonderful stories and rants, leaving some of his better material in the first series. While the sherrif, Gary and Graeme still get a lot of exposure there is now a lot more variation in terms of characters for the show to start finding its rhythm with.
The humour of the series, above all else, continues to make Maid Marian and Her Merry Men so much fun. The usual anachronisms are there, this time from Trivial Pursuit playing and rugby (with eggs) to jingles for Indian restaurants and roof fitters. There are also some great moments that see Tony Robinson spoof TV shows and live events. A particular standout involves Marian and Robin coming up with a charity event to raise funds for Gladys’s (Hilary Mason) impounded chicken Colin. The episode turns into a Comic Relief parody named “Colin’s Release” as Marian and her friends try to raise two hundred gold pieces in true telethon style, with the huge pay off being a cheesy charity song with the actors forcefully belting out the notes in great crooning style. The locals of Worksop also continue to get a lot of screen time, perhaps more so here than in the first series. They’re an odd bunch to watch as it’s difficult to know whether or not they’re idiots or just insane. Here we have town folk who truly believe that their chicken is in fact The Worksop Egg Fairy who comes from Magic Land to lay eggs that they can then use to play games – not eat folks, play games! The episode in question is another brilliantly written piece in which the likes of Robin Chandler and Hilary Mason do wonders to bring it to life. As an ensemble show seeing everyone come together for the greater good of the script is truly inspiring. While it might not sound funny, watching grown adults – good and bad – resort to childish putdowns to try and get the better of a situation does plenty to raise smiles, have us shake our heads at its stupidity and just go along for the ride. After all, aren’t these characters basically doing what we all wish we could do from time to time?
#1 The Beast of Bolsover
A rugged gang of outlaws led by the Beast of Bolsover takes over the forest of Sherwood, leaving Marian and her gang rather annoyed. Furthermore they’re now squatting at the merry men’s’ pad. What will they do? Perhaps the sheriff might be able to help?
#2 The Worksop Egg Fairy
King John wants his breakfast! Well he gets his breakfast, but no cooked breakfast is complete without an egg. He orders the sheriff and his men to go into town and bring back a lovely egg that’s a little bit runny, just the way he likes it. It just so happens that the Worksop villagers’ hen has laid its first egg in two years - a true miracle. When the sheriff steals the egg the peasants are saddened and fear that the Worksop Egg Fairy won’t visit again. Marian must try to convince them that all they need to do is feed the poor hen once in a while.
#3 Little Brown Noses
King John is displeased with the amount of money coming through. He sends the sheriff out to fix income by doing whatever is necessary. After heading into town the sheriff impounds Gladys’s pet Colin for illegal parking, informing her that if she wants Colin back she’ll have to pay two hundred gold pieces. Marian and her men come to the rescue by hosting a charity event that involves pram races and kissing booths. Meanwhile King John’s nephew Guy of Gisbourne has come to stay at the castle for a while.
#4 Rabies in Love
When Rabies is beaten in an arm-wrestling match by a woman named Fergie he instantly falls in love and can’t get her off his mind. Back at the castle King John is getting increasingly frustrated by Guy’s presence and comes up with a plan to marry him off. The bad news is that his bride to be is Fergie.
#5 Rotten Rose: Part 1
Marion’s old school mate and citizen of Worksop Rose Scargill has devoted her time to worshipping Robin Hood, who is now a top celeb among the locals. When Rose manages to acquire some of Robin’s possessions she decides to take them to the sheriff in a bid to earn money. Teaming up with Nottingham she sets out to deceive Robin and Marian, capturing both in the process, but leaving Robin to believe that Marian is the real traitor.
#6 Rotten Rose: Part 2
With Robin and Marian held captive at King John’s castle it’s up to Barrington, Rabies and Little Ron to devise a cunning rescue plan with the help of peasant Nettle (Kerry Potter).
Just like the first series Eureka Video has released series one on two DVD5 discs. Each disc contains three episodes, with disc 1 also housing all of the bonus materials. The discs are stored in a standard amaray case, with the added bonus being an exclusive mini-comic written by Tony Robinson. The menu screens continue to be lively enough affairs. This time we're taken into King John’s castle, where we see several chickens. Depending how how long you leave the menu alone you will hear a few lines from the king and plenty of clucking.
Due to this looking exactly the same as before I’m going to stick with my same comments.
Maid Marian and Her Merry Men is presented in its original 1.33:1 aspect ratio. Considering that the series is just over fifteen years old now and was undoubtedly shot on tape it looks pretty good. There’s a slight softness in places and there’s a deliberate amount of diffusion filtering which I presume is meant to help capture a certain fairytale quality. Colours are pleasant and detail is fine, but Eureka has added a little Edge Enhancement, and there is some aliasing to boot. Otherwise this does look pretty good, all things taken into account.
For sound we get an original English DD2.0 track, and there’s little to say other than it has solid clarity all round. There are no issues with dialogue and the show’s songs come through bassy enough.
Good news is that optional English subtitles have been included, and these translate everything well, including the theme song.
BBC Internal Trailer (7:23)
For the Beeb’s eyes only, Tony Robinson in guise as the Sheriff of Nottingham provides a basic outline of the series, while pimping the accompanying illustrated books. Joining him is Marian, Robin, Little Ron, Gary and Graeme. The quality here is quite bad, being sourced from a poor VHS copy, but as finds go this is a pretty good one.
Hunt the Chicken
This is just a silly little game in which the viewer must find the chicken in as few attempts as possible. This takes place in the king’s dungeon and spans three screens.
Audio Commentary with Tony Robinson, Maggie Chapplehow (Costume Designer), Christine Powers (Make-up), David Bell (Director)
The first commentary in the set is for the first episode of the series. Here we learn about the inspiration behind the costumes, amusingly that the costumes were supposed to be Mad Max meets Jabberwocky meets Glastonbury. There’s a little discussion about make-up, casting and set designs, the latter of which brings up stuff that I totally missed watching the series, such as funny wooden satellite dishes on the village huts. The budget of the series is talked about briefly, which at the time was on of the biggest for a children’s show, and we also hear from David Bell who explains his preferred methods of directing.
Audio Commentary with David Bell, Mike Edmonds (Little Ron), Howard Lew Lewis (Rabies) and David Lloyd (Graeme)
For episode three in the series director David Bell is joined by three of the principal cast members. This track is livelier than the first one, with the contributors talking over each other early on, before they settle into it a bit better. It’s all very jolly, with plenty of fond memories and a few concepts and tricks being given away. We learn about what some of the actors have been doing since and some of the uncomfortable things that cast members had to go through - namely wigs and costumes.
I’m a big kid at heart and I think many of us still are. Maid Marian and Her Merry Men indulges the kid in all of us; it’s so silly and so absurd that it’s just great. The cast and crew involved just want to have a good time and their vigour comes through in spades. I’m really glad that this finally fell into the right hands because Eureka has put some much deserved love into their release. I’m still holding out for commentaries with Kate Lonergan, Wayne Morris and Danny John Jules, so fingers crossed it’ll happen. I imagine the third series won’t be far off, so I’ll await it eagerly and hope that we also get the Christmas special thrown in.