Bethel in Caverns of Chaos (6_89)

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Searles, Baird. 'Television Program Reviews: Wizards and Warriors." The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction July 1983: 84-85


Mess Media

by Baird Searles


It has been a fascinating process over the years watching heroic fantasy (or "pure fantasy," Tolkienesque fantasy, or swords and sorcery -- all terms used to differentiate this subgenre from science fiction and supernatural literature) grow from a handful of stories read by a few devotees into a major publishing phenomenon, and then spread into the mass media. Probably the massest medium of our time is the TV series (witness the viewing figure for the final M*A*S*H), and we how have a heroic fantasy series in network prime time; the field has gone as far (or as low) as it can get.

Given the TV penchant for naming series after weapons, I'm surprised it wasn't dubbed "Broadsword Blade" or "Macmillan and Mace," but it ended up being called, straightforwardly, "Wizards and Warriors." This is obviously a reference to the late, lamented (?) gaming fad, which the programmers figured was the major association with fantasy in the public mind.

They also seemed to go on the usual assumption in dealing with s/f or fantasy that, being such, it doesn't have to make sense, so the initial episode was clearly one that came later, essentially plopping the viewer into a situation that had already been set up. The second episode was the first of a two-parter, which did include the expository material, for some reason being done as a flashback told by the resident wizard. Not a good start.

While there was no hope that this would be serious heroic fantasy, with the power and beauty of which the field is capable, it could have been a de Campy romp, with some wit and humor for the grownups as well as the standard demons and mindless swordplay. There's evidence that this was what was aimed for, but so far the wit (and imagination) are in pretty short supply.

The hero is named Erik Greystone, and he is supposed to be a young, blond, and handsome prince. Unfortunately, the actor employed is a bit seasoned for youth, and a bit bleached for blond. And too seasoned and bleached for handsome. The villain, Dirk Blackpool, is altogether more appealing, but speaks with one of those sub-Atlantic accents which is supposed to indicate effete unpleasantness. The principal females are a major setback for women's lib -- there's not a bearable lady in view: Blackpool's associate Bethel is a thoroughly unpleasant witch, and the Princess Ariel is a thoroughly unpleasant bitch, a Jewish American Princess who doesn't happen to be Jewish or American. (However, Bethel's wardrobe is the most campily revealing since that of Princess Ardala's in Buck Rogers). And there are the usual nasty demons, pet unicorns (here named Pumpkin), smug and/or sneering wizards, and bumbling kings.

Since series can change drastically, I won't devote an entire column to W&W this time, but continue commentary on the evidence of further episodes at a later date.

[Article continues about another television series.]


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