Maid Marian and Her Merry Men: The Complete Series Three Review
Robin: “Wait ‘til I tell Marian. She’ll be as excited as a policeman with two truncheons!”
Yea, I burst out at that one, and there are many more gems, which to mention would be to unfairly spoil them.
The third series of Maid Marian and Her Merry Men is notable for the fact that co-stars Mark Billingham and David Lloyd entered as co-writers, due to Tony Robinson needing to relieve some of the burden as he worked on other projects, while this third series was rather late in being comissioned; in fact it didn't appear until three years after the second series. This proved to be quite significant in that it paved the way for some of the series’ best episodes. Arguably the greatest of those which make up series three are “The Big Baby”, in which Marian and her crew must battle against Nottingham with a giant jelly baby in the guise of King John and “Robin and the Beansprout”: a very funny take on the old tale of Jack. Certainly with Billingham and Lloyd the ideas fly thick and fast; the series just gets wackier from the first episode onward and by now the only goal is to see just how far the writers can push it. While we still have plenty of Robinson’s brilliant and familiar anachronistic touches we also see the series head into other realms as it takes on even science fiction with the episode “They Came from Outer Space”. The humour throughout is generally strong, although it must be said that for every few wonderful gags there is the odd hitter. The strength of Maid Marian and Her Merry Men always lies in its quick witted delivery, snappy one liners and contemporary parallels; it’s not often that an episode will drag out a joke to the point of tedium, in fact the third series continues to impress by setting up the huge punch line by the end (remember Snooker?), for example the peasant girl Hayley (Carly Britnell) in the episode “They Came from Outer Space” and also “Keeping Mum” where Countess Schwarzenegger of Luxemburg pays visit (Note the name that Nottingham adopts that soon ties in with the finale). But there is a rare occasion where the laughs don’t come and the main culprit for me is Rabies’ chattering teeth (literally) and grumbling stomach, which is far too overplayed during one particular episode. Still, I’m pointing out small niggles, pretty much everything else is spot on as usual: there are more royal family gags than ever and parodies of public holidays and singing contests, even a bizarre episode featuring the King taking driving lessons and another which sees Gary and Graham don the most realistic elephant disguise ever seen!
The series as a whole has always been immensely fun with its song and dance routines. Series three ups the ante considerably, with two songs per episode as expected, but now they feel lengthier and more ambitious. Herein lays another great strength. It’s clear that as the series progressed the level of quality in the writing of these pieces raised dramatically and thus far series three offers the finest collection of mad pop hits ever recorded. There are stand outs of course; “Father Bloopy” is an absolutely hilarious track from one of the most cracking episodes ever written, with Robinson and the gang continuing to mime in sheer delight. But what makes this and the others funnier is their spontaneity and the way in which everyone balances campy-ness with an odd sense of seriousness in the way their characters move: for example Nottingham and his gyrating hips or Robin channelling Elvis Presley for another classic number, each performance being played straight to some degree. Songs about Chop Suey and Dentists - the latter borrowing its riff from Ghostbusters - and Eurovision entries; each one bringing something new and exciting to the series. Furthermore the lyrics tend to get a little dark in tone, sometimes even bordering on innuendo, but they’re implemented so well that everything works tremendously. Supa-dupa doopie indeed.
As usual our characters are all well and good. The series continues to explore certain player’s eccentricities and use them to the advantage of the storylines. Again it’s Robin who gets most of the best stuff, while the others get on with things in the background, although Marian gets an interesting visit from her mother, played by Blackadder’s Patsy Byrne. Again we have something of a rarity in that the show doesn’t often employ big guest stars, but here it makes for some interesting viewing; it opens up Marian’s past a little bit more and subsequently earns the viewer’s empathy, being that we’ve all had to put up with fussy mothers at some point in our lives. Rose and Guy, who were introduced in the previous series also manage to have their moments. Rose isn’t widely featured, only cropping up on a couple of occasions to antagonise her old friend Marian once again, while Guy is naturally given a host of dumb scenes which continues to show just how frustrating his presence at the castle is and how much of a thorn he is in King John’s side.
Other than those wee developments Maid Marian and Her Merry Men carries on regardless, delivering a shed load more entertainment, backed by some truly excellent performances. All the familiar aspects are here, so those who enjoyed the previous two outings will feel right at home as they settle in to another six, splendid episodes about the strange goings on in Sherwood Forest.
#1 The Big Baby
King John is still fed up that nobody pays him the respect that he thinks he deserves. He quickly orders Nottingham to head out to Worksop and have the peasants shower him with gifts. Nottingham has a better idea and decides to have a life seized jelly baby made in the king’s image, but no sooner does he get it done he’s robbed by Marian and co. The Sheriff needs a new plan quickly and sure enough he and his men invent a new holiday season called “Bloopy” in which the King will receive all the gifts he wants thanks to some easily duped villagers. Meanwhile Marian decides to use the life sized jelly baby to her advantage and with the help of Barrington and his amazing vocal talents.
#2 Driving Ambition
Nothing very interesting happens in Worksop and this week is no different. Today they’re holding a mud throwing contest, unsurprisingly. It dawns on Marian after witnessing them sing and dance that they are in fact very talented performances and so she comes up with an idea that will allow them to showcase their skills. “A Song for Worksop” is born and everyone is in singing spirits. Meanwhile King John is taking driving lessons and he’s soon to take his test; he knows however that he won’t pass and so he requires Nottingham to do a spot of bribery, only he has no money. Sure enough Guy blurts out that he’ll bet a thousand gold pieces that he’ll lose at the singing contest, which gives Nottingham a perfect idea. With the help of Rotten Rose he attempts to sabotage the contest by using corrupt judges, but funnily enough Marian has the same idea…
#3 Keeping Mum
Much to her chagrin Marian’s mother is paying a visit to Worksop. The main problem is that Marian has told her that she’s a dentist’s receptionist, which calls for the gang to pose as dentists in order to safeguard Marian’s little lie. When the Sheriff visits town he soon learns of Marian’s mother’s presence, who he thinks he can use as the perfect bait to capture the outlaw and her band.
#4 They Came from Outer Space
Marian, her men and the village folk witness a strange phenomenon in the skies: a fireball shooting down near the forest, which makes them wonder if there is anything else up there in the vast openness. News reaches Nottingham and he informs the King who then orders him to construct a defence shield to stop any outside invasion. Meanwhile Guy is blathering on about his invisible friend Plop-bop, but of course nobody believes him. When Nottingham ends up stealing all the peasants’ clothing Marian decides to steal them back from the castle and this time she might prove that aliens really do exist.
#5 Robin and the Beansprout
It’s Thursday and Robin should be cooking for the gang, only it turns out he’s forgotten, but rather than tell the truth he constructs an elaborate lie based upon the previous night’s bedtime story. Marian is fed up of his lies, it’s not the first time he’s done it and now it’s time to get firm with him. She orders him to go back out and bring back a nice takeaway. With only a beansprout on hand that won’t be easy for Robin, that is until fortune smiles down upon him and he ends up living in a real fairytale.
#6 The Great Mud Harvest
It’s another tax year and Nottingham takes more of the peasants’ possessions for the King to live off. With very little to his name the King realises that he can no longer afford the services of Nottingham and promptly gives him the sack. Of course Nottingham can get back in, if he finds some worthy riches. Back at Worksop Marian is disappointed that all of her hard work in relieving the villagers of their famine has gone without thanks. Nobody wants to eat her perfectly normal sandwiches and spirits are down. It just so happens that Robin has purchased a brand new white suit and he’s sure that he can cheer up the villagers with his singing, which soon annoys Marian who wishes that his suit would just get covered in mud.
As with series one and two Eureka Video has put out two DVD5 discs. Each disc contains three episodes, with both discs also offering extra features. 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 quite fun. The theme this time is Worksop, where we’re taken into a shabby old shack. Leaving the menu for a minute or so will result in a fake blackout which tricks you into thinking that your player has just broken down.
Series three looks about the same as the previous ones did on DVD. The 1.33:1 image is slightly soft, with plenty of filtering, but it still looks pleasant enough. Colours are bright and cheery and there are no major problems with detail and definition. There is a slight amount of bleed on overly pronounced greens though, but nothing worth worrying a great deal over. Edge enhancement and aliasing is also present.
English DD2.0 is our one and only sound option and it proves to be perfectly acceptable. Dialogue is fine, although notably more low end than the bassy songs, but there’s nothing here to suggest poor authoring. It sounds as it should being a fifteen year old tape recorded series that featured minimal ambience and effects.
Optional English subtitles are also included. These provide good translations, with just a few word omissions here and there. The songs are also subtitled.
Christmas Special: “Much the Minimart Manager’s Son
Running for fifty minutes, this the first and only Christmas special that appeared throughout the entire series. However in spirit it isn’t strictly a Christmassy episode, rather that honour would best be given to the series three opener “The Big Baby”. Still, this is another fun episode and a welcome addition to the set. This time a cockney charmer named Much is trying to flog wind up frog toys, which he insists to the Worksop peasants will keep the Giant Frog Beast at bay. Soon enough Marian kicks up a fuss, but Much isn’t having any of it. In fact he’s become besotted with the freedom fighter and relentlessly pursues her. Meanwhile a new recruit has joined the ranks of King John’s small army: Gavin, a four year old boy with more intelligence than Gary and Graham put together. With Much and Marian drawing closer will the band of merry men be disbanded for good? Witness all as Sherwood becomes the forefront in modern technology, with amazing flying machines and cutting edge nightclubs!
Audio Commentary for “Keeping Mum” with Tony Robinson, Kate Lonergan, Howard Lew Lewis and Alison Law (Production Assistant)
Although there are quite a few lengthy pauses this proves to be a worthwhile trip down memory lane for the participants. It’s a rather laid back track, with Robinson and company discussing the series’ budget and sense of creativity, along with fondly remembering the song and dance routines and telling personal anecdotes. There are a few moments in which they get a little critical and chat about wanting to have done another series, generally citing the show as one of the best thing they’d ever worked on.
Tony Robinson, Mark Billingham and David Lloyd on ‘Creative Writing’ (10.02)
This newly recorded feature has the three collaborators sit down and discuss their time spent on the show. Billingham and Lloyd talk about how they were drafted in to write for the series and discuss some if the ideas that they came up with. We learn that they’ve worked together on other projects and how editing has greatly helped them since the show ended. Robinson talks to them about moving on from children’s TV to adult television and we catch up on what projects they’ve been working on. It’s a very nice bonus that offers some interesting insights into creative writing, though I only wise it went on for much longer.
Photo Gallery courtesy of Mike Edmonds and Chrissie Powers
Running for three minutes this is a nice collection of personal photographs, backed by the series’ instrumental track. As such they’re a rare sight and we get some fun looking stills which are clearly filled with many fond memories.
The third series of Maid Marian and Her Merry Men is another strong entry, with very little dragging it down. The songs are better than ever, the performances are as fun and lively as usual and the scripts are often bizarre but funny as hell. Fans will be stoked with another classy release from the guys and girls at Eureka. Well, that just leaves us with one more series and I’m sure it won’t be too far off as we’ve been seeing three month windows between each release. Let’s hope that we get some more nice extras to go with it. Adam Morris perhaps? More video interviews? Here’s hoping.