THE XENA SCROLLS: An Opinionated Episode Guide (515 & 516)

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.

 

105. Season 5, Episode 15: “Married With Fishsticks” (Aired: 02/21/00 | Filmed: 11/10 – 11/19/99)

When Gabrielle is knocked unconscious into the sea, a merman convinces her that she is his wife and the mother of three.

Written by Kevin Maynard | Directed by Paul Grinder | Production No. V0914

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JACKSON SAYS:

I featured this episode as one of the eight worst episodes of the entire series. Read my thoughts here.

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CAST & CREW COMMENTARY:

Rob Tapert (Executive Producer/Writer/Director): “I got a call on my cell phone and it’s the head of television for Universal, and he said, ‘I watched an episode of Xena this weekend. Rob, what the hell were you thinking?’ I went, ‘Well, Steve, Lucy wasn’t available and we thought we wanted to do something for the middle of winter that is girls having fun, bathing suits, and swimming pools, and all that. And we thought the only way to get and do that was to have this kind of crazy dream sequence.’ And he went, ‘Oh.. Oh yeah, I get that. All right.’… We wanted to kind of do like a live action Simpsons, for lack of anything else, that allowed us to have a lot of fun. Then the director, who really only directed second unit for like five years of Xena, he and I are huge Esther Williams fans… [But] the one good thing about doing episodes like [this one] is that the actors and actresses who are series regulars, anytime they get a chance to step outside the confines of their normal character and play something else, they love it and embrace it and run with it… So Alex [Tydings] and Meighan [Desmond], who were two battling New York girls, they really went with the flow. And Ted getting to be the hero of a piece and having a whole storyarc and not having to be the stooge, he loved it. And Renee, well she got to do all kinds of other things, [like] physical comedy… so they all loved it. And we had a great time making it.” (“Married With Fishsticks” Interviews w/ Cast & Crew – Season Five DVD Set)

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Eric Gruendemann (Producer): “What did I think when I first opened the script for [this episode]? Somebody had been doing a lot of drugs. I remember the pitch to me from Los Angeles, and I said, ‘Oh, it sounds like it could be fun.’ We knew that Lucy was not going to be in this episode, and we always liked to deviate completely from the norm, because it’s always fun to put the characters in new costumes, have them play new characters and do new elaborate sets. So that’s always a challenge that we welcomed down south in New Zealand. The problem with [this episode] is that, man, it was so weird. There are some aspects to it that I really like. I think that both Ted [Raimi] and Renee [O’Connor] are wonderful in it, Meighan Desmond and Alex Tydings are incredibly funny, and teaching Meighan Desmond to do Fran Drescher… was, believe me, a little bit of work, but she got it very beautifully… Probably my favorite moment in the episode was Renee as Lolita, which we thought was immense fun. And then Ted doing his Saturday Night Fever… That scene always makes me smile, cause when she reveals her braces, it cracks me up… I think it’s always fun for core fans to see their favorite characters doing really wacky and unusual things. And this [episode] was a big deviation, so we were a little nervous that maybe we could have possibly taken it to far.” (“Married With Fishsticks” Interviews w/ Cast & Crew – Season Five DVD Set)

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Donald Duncan (Director of Photography): “[This episode] had a very interesting look to it. I heard it described as ‘70s Miami kitsch meets The Flinstones. I think that was the brief that the art department worked to, and between art department and costume, they just made [the episode]. It was Gabrielle’s dream so they could go anywhere they liked…. The art department had waterbeds and they had pink bedspreads and they had green and turquoise and we had water effects through the whole [set]. It was just fun to get into a different world… Paul Grinder, the director, is a huge fan of Busby Berkeley musicals and it was a chance to collaborate with the scriptwriters and get in and do a little ode to Busby Berkeley and Esther Williams… Then we had Baby Roe, who was an entirely prosthetic creature… and I think we had a couple of versions… [This] episodes got a lot of different nods to a lot of different things. It unashamedly rips off different movies. There’s a scene a little bit later on where it’s Saturday Night Fever meets Kubrick’s Lolita… They actually used ‘Saturday Night Fever,’ and it astounded me that they got the rights to actually use that song. Must have cost them a few bucks… [But] I think we had a season of pretty heavy episodes and lots of bad guys and lots of killing and lots of murder… and to get into this comedy light relief, was just a breath of fresh air. It was fantastic… I did hear when we were prepping the episode that Rob [Tapert] was kind of shooting that episode as a possible pilot for a series he was hoping to pitch, which unfortunately, I don’t believe got off the ground, but the closest we came to it is Spongebob Squarepants, a cartoon, which I think has got a lot of the feel of what this episode was all about… [It’s] an episode that people either love or hate. Personally, looking back at all the episodes I shot over five years, it blew me away again watching it. I thought, ‘That’s one of the most fun shows we ever did.’ And it was Paul Grinder’s first episode that I shot with him as a main unit director. He’d been with Xena, like myself, since the inception… so we had a long history together and it was great to have him in the driver’s seat being the director, calling the shots.” (“Married With Fishsticks” Interviews w/ Cast & Crew – Season Five DVD Set)

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Jane Holland (Costume Designer): “[This episode] was, well, it was unique, I suppose. On a practical level, we had quite a lot to deal with. We had mermaids, and we had a lot of water, and we also just had this complete wacky fantasy world. It was quite a cartoon really. I mean, the characters were larger than life, the costumes were larger than life, everything was larger than life. I think I approached it with a bit of a color angle. Like each character had a particular color… [But] we had to be able to transition from mermaids to people with legs and still keep elements of those costumes continuous.” (“Married With Fishsticks” Interviews w/ Cast & Crew – Season Five DVD Set)

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Ted Raimi (Actor, Joxer): “[This is] definitely one of my favorite episodes… I think it’s one of the most daring ones we did. What makes great TV for some makes terrible TV for others. The same reason people tune into TV on a regular basis is often the same reason people like to read Harlequin Romance books. Because every book that you pick up is essentially the same as the last one with a few variations thrown in. It’s safe, and it’s easy, and you’re not going to be challenged very much. So that’s why people tune in, that’s why television is the way it is. There’s nothing wrong with that, except when you throw in a monkey wrench like [this] episode. Some people that want to be challenged will say, ‘Wow, this is really cool and bizarre,’ and ‘what the hell are they doing here?’ The people that just want to see Xena kick a**, and Gabrielle and all that kind of stuff are not going to be pleased at all. But on a more offbeat level, I think [the] episode really worked. And it worked largely because of the peripheral characters, especially Meighan and Alex, doing their kooky stuff. By the way, I’ve gotten some letters from people that absolutely loved [this] episode beyond all measure. Other people thought it was just dreadful, but anyway…in a reversal episode like that, usually the characters are the opposite of what they are. Say Xena is suddenly sweet and mellow or Joxer’s smart and capable, these kind of things. But this was not an opposite episode. This was just a…different show. These characters had nothing whatsoever to do with their counterparts, which I think really threw some people off. But I loved that. I think we all loved it. And frankly I think that Meighan and Alex are the kind of actors who like to mix things up. They’re highly intelligent, and it’s fun to work with people like that when you never really know what’s coming up. Anyway, I loved it and I loved watching Meighan in it.” (Meighan Desmond Online Interview – October 2003)

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Alexandra Tydings (Actor, Aphrodite): “[This episode] was all about keeping my head out of the water, but trying to float at the same time… We were in a pool [for the underwater scenes], so it wasn’t the most amazing dive of my life. We were under five meters of water for half an hour at a time, and we were right down there with all the safety guys. They had all the tanks and gear with them, and we were completely cared for, but I think the fact that I had dived so much deeper than that before definitely helped. I had been under that much water tons of times, and was completely used to breathing underwater, having ankle weights and being weighted under water. We weren’t allowed to have scuba tanks in the shot, so we didn’t actually have tanks on our backs. The safety guys had tanks, and each of us had a regulator from their tanks, which we were breathing from. They would get the shot lined up, then call action, and the guys would swim away with our air. That can be a little daunting, but you have to do stuff like that to get your scuba diving certificate. You’re way under water, and you have to let go of your regulator, then recover it, blow the water out of it and start breathing again. So having been through all of that made it just so much easier for me to not freak out under there for half an hour at a time with no control over my air, and with guys holding me down by my ankles. I felt for Meighan Desmond [Discord], because she was going through that for the first time, and suffering through it like the trooper that she is… Basically, [to get into the mermaid costume], you’ve got a whole bunch of guys holding you up in the air, and you wiggle your legs into this tail. Then they pull you up and slap you down at the side of the pool, and then they flip you over like a fish. They lace up these little shoelaces that are on your butt, and strap on this felt, and then they flop you back over again. From that point on there’s no more walking – you’re completely dependent on these guys to carry you to wherever you need to be. Actually, it’s easier to be in the water, because you float, but only if you’re lying on your back. With that ridiculously huge wig, when I laid on my back in the water, the wig would get wet and start pulling me underwater from my head backwards!” (Titan: The Official XENA Magazine, Issue #17 – April 2001)

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106. Season 5, Episode 16: “Lifeblood” (Aired: 03/13/00 | Filmed: 01/20 – 01/24/00)

Xena and Gabrielle travel to the Amazon village to make Eve an Amazon princess and discover that it’s up to them to prevent unnecessary bloodshed in a vengeful war.

Story by Rob Tapert & R.J. Stewart | Teleplay by R.J. Stewart, George Strayton, & Tom O’Neill | Directed by Paul Grinder and Michael Hurst | Production No. V0924

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JACKSON SAYS:

I featured this episode as one of the eight worst episodes of the entire series. Read my thoughts here.

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CAST & CREW COMMENTARY:

Rob Tapert (Executive Producer/Writer/Director): “[This] was where we took [an unaired pilot] Amazon High and cut it down into an episode of Xena. Xena and Gabrielle go to visit the Amazons. They’re going to bestow upon Xena’s daughter Gabrielle’s rite of caste to become an Amazon. So it’s basically non-stop dancing of Amazons intercut with Amazon High… [Michael Hurst] didn’t direct [the Xena parts], but [he] had to get credit because it was one minute more… It was a real stretch. We were trying to save money. It became a huge, huge nightmare… [As for the pilot,] we actually solid [it] to make into a series. Then I was at the Syndicated TV Convention, NAPTE, and I saw… all these other shows set in that time coming. And suddenly I got all weak in the knees and went, ‘Oh, my god. I’ll just be lost in that clutter.’… I got cold feet that it wasn’t covering new enough ground.” (“Lifeblood” Interviews w/ Cast & Crew – Season Five DVD Set)

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Michael Hurst (Director/Actor): “[The Amazon High final battle] was amazing to shoot… It was something like 60 people on horseback and 80 guys on the ground, you know, with a crane, and a camera on a track, and another camera. And we did three days of shooting. There were something like 480 slates in the battle sequence. It was very, very complicated.” (“Lifeblood” Interviews w/ Cast & Crew – Season Five DVD Set)

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Come back next Thursday for more Xena! And tune in tomorrow for another Pre-Code Film Friday!

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