We used to have a lot of lower-budget shows, usually syndicated, that were tons of fun to watch. We loved them, even if they weren't perfect in their executions. So where did all the Xenas and Herculeses go? And should we have them back?
Back in the 90s and into the very early 2000s, there was a glut of the television equivalent of B-movies. Most of the time they were syndicated shows, but there were the occasional network show that puttered along with low budgets but okay ratings. I can name so many of these shows off the top of my head: Andromeda, Beastmaster, Jack of All Trades, The Lost World (otherwise known as "no, not that Lost World, the other one. No, the other one.), The Pretender, Earth: Final Conflict, Highlander: The Series. And, of course, the undisputed king and queen of this genre: Hercules: The Legendary Journeys and Xena: Warrior Princess.
They were fun. Solid entertainment, if sometimes formulaic. What they really managed to be was greater than the sum of their production values. And their accuracy, because these were not shows trying for a true portrayal of whatever their locale was. No one was going to mistake anything in Hercules for a true look at Ancient Greece. Or any of Highlander: The Series' versions of the past in its flashbacks.
That's not to say there weren't real stakes or real characters at the center of these shows, just that they weren't major network shows with major primetime dollars. Xena had a number of real tearjerking moments, for example. They were shows that were good, without being giant productions.
They're pretty much all gone now. Not entirely gone, just mostly pushed out. It's not that we've lost genre television — we've been seeing a boom in science fiction, fantasy, supernatural, and other "high concept" shows. But, to identify them with the most recognizable names, almost everything seems to have gone either the Nolanesque, grim, gritty, and existential question route OR the romance by-way-of Twilight.
Is it defensiveness that has done this? Sci-fi and fantasy are getting their moment in the sun, and they're going to defeat genre shaming, once and for all? And to do that, they've fallen into the trap that says that drama is more worthy than comedy, so they're going to be the MOST dramatic thing out there? There's a word for that, and it's "melodrama."
Maybe it's our fault. Maybe we've become so used to high production values that we can't accept anything else. And if a studio's going to spend all the money that these shows need, they're going to want the show to follow the commercially and critically successful mode out there.
There are shows where this approach is warranted and celebrated, and that's all fine and good. This isn't a complaint about Game of Thrones or Orphan Black. But there are a lot of other shows that could have really benefited from just embracing their B-TV roots. Intelligence, for example. That show could have just been a fun little procedural with a slight sci-fi twist. But, no, it was on CBS. During primetime. With a cast of familiar faces and names. And it really wanted to be an exploration of the nature of man vs. machine. It was not equipped to do that. At all.
Let's have more smaller shows. More shows that start from a place of being entertaining, rather than starting with some philosophical question. Let's have more Xenas and Herculeses, please.