Welcome to another Xena Thursday! Today, we’re continuing our chronological coverage of every single episode of Xena: Warrior Princess — both the episodes that I have previously highlighted AND the episodes I’ve yet to feature. Complementing my thoughts are the thoughts of those who worked on the series: mostly actors, writers, directors, and producers. I have done months of research for the acquisition of the quotes you’ll see over these next 67 weeks (as there are 134 episodes and I’ll be covering two episodes per week). They come from a variety of sources, including the original special feature-laden DVD releases, The Chakram Official Newsletters, both the Topps and Titans Official Xena Magazines, the fan kits, and other assorted print and video interviews. So in addition to sharing my thoughts, these posts will also contain information and musings from the Xenites that matter most — the ones who brought this exciting series to the small screen.
39. Season 2, Episode 15: “A Day In The Life” (Aired: 02/17/97 | Filmed: 01/06 – 01/10/97)
Xena has 24 hours to prevent a warlord from plundering one village and the world’s biggest giant from destroying another.
Written by R.J. Stewart | Directed by Michael Hurst | Production No. V0223
I featured this episode as #4 on my list of the 60 best episodes. Read my thoughts here.
CAST & CREW COMMENTARY:
Robert Tapert (Executive Producer/Writer/Director): “This episode was some fans’ favorite of all times, and some people hated it because it spun the Xena/Gabrielle relationship a little bit different than it had been the rest of the series and I think this was Michael Hurst’s directing debut on Xena… I had pitched R.J. the idea of doing a lighter episode about just spending a day with Xena and Gabrielle on their normal everyday life, without any great big mission, and we kept trying and playing around with it – how can we do it without having a villain that had to be defeated that’s set up in the teaser and paid off in the end?” (“A Day In The Life” Commentary, Season Two DVD Set)
Lucy Lawless (Actor, Xena): “[This episode] was a landmark. Michael Hurst directed, and that was charming. And we really got to expand our characters, because there was no paradigm for this episode. We had not done anything like it before, so we all just kind of went crazy and it was good, cheeky fun, because [Renee and I] got to fill in the gaps [in our characters and their relationship] in our own silly way. I think we brought a lot more of ourselves. I know I did anyway. You get to see a lot more of Lucy in there. You know what was pure Lucy: when the eels were thrashing, and you get to see the slow motion of me pulling silly faces. Well, that was kind of [an outtake]. Because the water stank so bad, it was so smelly and slimy. The eels are so primal and disgusting to touch that I wanted to howl. I was just trying not to laugh, because I’m in such a disgusting situation… Yeah, those were real eels, and they move in all directions—and their skin moves in the opposite direction. They are the foulest creatures I’ve ever touched. We’ve done rats and eels now, but I don’t know what’s next! [Gabrielle’s line about her liking what Xena does] was just Renee having a gag. Yeah she said, ‘Oh, why don’t I say this?’ and everybody said, ‘Yeah, yeah, say that.’ So [she] did, and then we moved on. That’s how the whole fuss was created. It’s just us goofing!” (The Official Guide To The Xenaverse by Robert Weisbrot – 1998)
Renee O’Connor (Actor, Gabrielle): “I’ll never forget [the eels]… Ughh! They were awful because as soon as they became nervous or threatened in any way, they became exceptionally slimy, so you had… a hard time holding on to them. So we kept releasing all these eels into the lake. Two years later they want[ed] us to get back in the lake, well we know that there’s at least multiples of generations of eels … [But this] was awful. [Lucy] was holding the lives ones and … Dave Watson kept throwing the dead ones at me…. I reeked. I smelled so bad. Nobody could believe it…” (Coffee Talk #2 With Lucy & Renee – Deleted Scenes)
R.J. Stewart (Writer/Producer): “By the middle of the second season, everyone was hip to the subtext rumors and anyone who wanted to squeeze a little subtext into the show was welcome to do so up to a point. The first time I did it consciously was [this episode]. I was thinking of having them take baths in separate bath tubs like the movie cowboys used to do after the cattle drives. Then, as I was writing it, I put them in the tub together. It seemed so right.” (Xena Online Community Interview – March 2008)
Renee O’Connor (Actor, Gabrielle): “We were in this hot tub and Allison kept bringing in these buckets of freezing cold water so we lost our breath every time… She was fun; what a riot! You know what was funny about [this scene]? I was so embarrassed when I read that script. I went, ‘Oh my God, where did Gabrielle put the soap? I can’t do it!’ That was funny.” (Coffee Talk #2 With Lucy & Renee)
Michael Hurst (Actor/Director): “[W]e shot it in like five days. I used [a] hand-held camera most of the time, except for the bath scene, which I really like. I kept getting calls from the editors, ‘Can you please give us something to cut away to?’ – ‘Nah!’ It’s one shot; it’s nearly three minutes long. It’s never dull, and, you know, these two women in the bath together… So, I just said to Lucy and Renee, ‘Don’t play sexy, don’t do anything. If you do anything, it’ll be too much. It’s two women in a bath. It’s you two in a bath. You don’t have to do anything.’ And they didn’t. They just played it. You watch it, and there’s pieces like Xena scrubbing Gabrielle’s ear and getting in there, and it’s all so real. I just love it. It’s my favorite, favorite shot… That [scene] was all written, but some of the other stuff was ad-libbed. We shot it like hand-held, threw it around. We kept finishing our days early and I kept thinking, ‘God, there’s something wrong here,’ but no, it was really good. It worked really well. I get a lot of positive feedback about [this episode]… I kept saying, ‘Look, you’ve got to think like a BBC camera crew — fly on the wall, and just go in and do it.’ And, also, Alison Wall, plays Minya – well she’s fantastic.” (Whoosh! Interview – September 1999)
Alison Wall (Actor, Minya): “Michael [Hurst, director] and I got on really well and I think he liked my work, so when he was asked to direct, he brought me in to audition for the part. I’m sure that there were other actors up for the part as well – probably a lot of people who didn’t look stunning! I auditioned very specifically for Minya… I had seen quite a lot of the script from the auditions and I thought the part was charming. It was also quite nice to play a ‘try hard’ type of character who was very keen, because the first time you are on set, you are a bit like that as well. You think to yourself, ‘Oh, I’m not very good, but I’ll give it a go!’ and that is exactly how Minya is. There was a scene that I read at my audition, which was the first I filmed. It was where Minya sees Xena for the first time. It was quite tricky because I’d been on set since 10am and nothing had happened. We were hours down [in the shooting schedule] because something had gone wrong with the camera in the morning and there were also problems with the light. It got to about 5:00pm and we were due to wrap, but they said, ‘Look, we’ve got five minutes before the light goes, shall we go for it?’ So they kind of looked at me and I said, ‘Oh, okay!’ I had never been on a huge film set like that before and it seemed like there were a hundred people around. It was an enormous crew and they were all waiting for me to get the scene right so that they could go home. So that was scary. My character had to get excited at seeing Xena and, it being my first day, I was quite nervous. There were goats and chickens running all over the place and I was holding a little goat that caught this energy, panicked and started climbing over me! So I ended up with bruises from these little goat hooves!” (Titan: The Official XENA Magazine, Issue #13 – December 2000)
Robert Tapert (Executive Producer/Writer/Director): “The entire fourth act… where they battle the giant, was all footage left over from another episode, ‘The Giant Killer,’ our David and Goliath episode that didn’t quite work.” (Starlog Magazine # 245 — December 1997)
40. Season 2, Episode 16: “For Him The Bell Tolls” (Aired: 02/24/97 | Filmed: 10/31 – 11/08/96)
While engaged in a battle of wills with her son, Cupid, Aphrodite turns Joxer into a dashing war hero tasked with stealing a princess’s heart away from her betrothed.
Written by Adam Armus & Nora Kay Foster | Directed by Josh Becker | Production No. V0220
For those in the fandom who detest the sight of Joxer and dread any episode in which he is featured prominently, this installment will be among your least favorites. For those who appreciate the humor and heart he brought to the series, this may very well be one of your favorites. I, personally, identify with the latter group and find this episode highly entertaining. One of the scripts written around Lawless’ accident, this is one of those episodes in which Xena appears briefly in the opening scene and briefly in the final scene. As I’ve written on the blog before, any episode that doesn’t center upon our titular heroine has to work extra hard to convince us (and myself, in particular) of its merits.
Fortunately, this episode is quite amusing, and it features the Xena debuts of Aphrodite and Cupid, two mythological figures who had already appeared on Hercules. (For fans of mythology, this episode may appeal a lot to you, especially since Aphrodite is presented at her most petty — closest to the representation offered by the Ancient Greeks.) Additionally, Renee O’Connor steps up to plate and turns in a wonderful performance that illustrates how far both actress and character have come thus far in the series. And, naturally, as the episode is centered around Joxer, this is a Ted Raimi showcase with moments of comedy and pathos afforded to the series’ most notable buffoon. It truly is a great show with a fun premise.
But, since the story has nothing to do with Xena’s quest for atonement, the episode simply can’t stand among the best (or even mediocre) episodes that hit upon this central thematic construct. So, though an entertaining excursion, it just isn’t comparable to classic Xena. Take it for what it is, however, and you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
CAST & CREW COMMENTARY:
Josh Becker (Director/Writer): “[This episode] was written in an extreme hurry due to the fact that Lucy broke her hip on Jay Leno’s show, which is why she is almost not in the [episode]. Given this, I thought it was a pretty good script, but I felt that it needed something more. I decided that Joxer ought to have a theme song. I came up with the first verse of ‘Joxer the Mighty.’… I then had to sing this to Rob Tapert, the executive producer and Liz Friedman, the co-producer. Neither seemed thrilled, but they didn’t say no, either. I then sang the song to Ted [Raimi, Joxer], who loved the idea, and I told him to come up with more verses, which he happily did over the course of the next few days. During post-production, I called Joe LoDuca, the composer, and he suggested that he do a big orchestrated version over the end titles with a big male chorus, then I played him the main theme to ‘Down To The Sea In Ships.’ Joe then added several more verses. The irony, of course, is that the song is now credited to Joe and Ted, but not me.” (Josh Becker Online Q&A)
Ted Raimi (Actor, Joxer): “[This] episode came out of me talking with R.J. Stewart one afternoon in Auckland while we were hanging out on the set. I had mentioned that my favorite comedy of all time was The Court Jester with Danny Kaye, and he said, ‘I love that movie too; we should write something with that flavor in mind.’ My comic inspirations are Bob Hope and Danny Kaye. I try to be inspired by rather than imitate them, but those guys are so brilliant, and their timing is impeccable. In [this episode], for example, there’s a scene that I ad-libbed where I’m on the chopping block, and I started thinking, ‘Joxer wouldn’t just get his head cut off; he would try to talk his way out of it,’ which is a classic Bob Hope thing: Get out of any situation with a lot of blab… [The song] was [director] Josh Becker’s idea; he saw this whole scene where I’m cooped up in a cell with Gabrielle, and part of the humor between those two characters is that Joxer drives her insane. She’s like the cool girl at school and he’s the school nerd, but because she’s so nice, she lets him hang out with her. Anyway, Josh said, ‘I think you should sing this song to her and drive her out of her mind. She’s trapped with you, and you should really irritate her as much as possible!’ I thought that was the funniest idea I had ever heard, so that day on the set, I started coming up with a little theme song and lyrics. Josh added a couple in the middle about ‘righting wrongs and singing songs’ but the rest was mine. The thing I felt worst about was the 30 choir members, who had practiced all their life singing Wagner and songs from Show Boat, and there they were, on a soundstage, having to sing a song I wrote in two minutes!” (Starlog Magazine Yearbook – August 1998)
Alexandra Tydings (Actor, Aphrodite): “[This, my first Xena episode] was a totally bizarre experience, because I felt I was sort of dreaming – it was the same costume, the heads of wardrobe and props were the same and a lot of the stunt guys were the same, but everything else was different. It was like going to a new school, because everybody else knew each other and I didn’t really know anybody… but they were all charming and friendly. That was one of the episodes where Lucy had broken her hip and she wasn’t working. I think she was still in a hospital in America for most of the time I was down there, but she came to the set on the last day, and that was the first time I met her. She apologized later because she said she was all drugged up on painkillers and had no idea what she was saying, but she was totally there and she was so sweet… Ted’s so funny. I think he’s really good at playing that other character, the suave swashbuckling guy…” (Topps: The Official XENA Magazine, Yearbook – 1998)
Ted Raimi (Actor, Joxer): “[This is] my favorite episode. I’m a script sort of person, and the story always comes first for me. [This is] such a beautifully, coherently written story. It’s rare for any television show to have really good scripts, and that one was terrific. It had a very good theme too, which was that the person that you’ve always wanted to be, is right inside you right now. That’s a very lovely thing to think about.” (Titan: The Official XENA Magazine, Issue #2 – December 1999)
Come back next Thursday for more Xena! And tune in tomorrow for another Clark Gable Pre-Code!