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.
101. Season 5, Episode 11: “Punch Lines” (Aired: 01/24/00 | Filmed: 07/19 – 07/23/99)
Gabrielle and Argo are shrunken into miniature versions of themselves when they cross paths with Lachrymose, the god of despair.
Written by Chris Manheim | Directed by Andrew Merrifield | Production No. V0910
An episode like this is a necessary evil. While every season is designed to have a clip show (to give production a tiny bit of a rest), this episode also had to contend with its star’s continued pregnancy, which necessitated a lighter approach. Thus, the idea to do a clip show of all the comedic episodes — something untried before on this series — was a smart one. Unfortunately, it comes at a time of great mediocrity in the series, so another trivial episode with not a lot of exciting beats going for it, just feels like a waste of time. However, because there are a few laugh-out-loud moments and because it is decidedly less ambitious, “Punch Lines” isn’t a failure like several others this season. It’s an okay way to spend 44 minutes. (Oh, and this is the episode — along with “Little Problems” that solidifies the friendship between Gabrielle and Aphrodite, which will become important later this season.)
CAST & CREW COMMENTARY:
Alexandra Tydings (Actor, Aphrodite): “Surprisingly, in some ways, the most pivotal episode for Aphrodite’s evolution… was [this one], which was almost an afterthought. They had already shot the show; I was down filming another episode [‘Little Problems’] and they asked me at the last minute, ‘Can you stay for a few more days and shoot a few more scenes we’re going to put into [this one]?’ [It] was a bottle show… [and] a story with Gabrielle and Lachrymose, but then they decided they needed a little bit of funny in there, so they put in Aphrodite. But, again, here’s an episode basically with me and Renee [like ‘Little Problems’] and… I think [this was] sort of the moment when Aphrodite got in there with Gabrielle and they created their own connection and their own friendship and relationship. And Aphrodite started to take a personal interest in Gabrielle specifically and the love between Gabrielle and Xena.” (Mythology Vs. Xena Documentary – The 10th Anniversary DVD Collection)
Renee O’Connor (Actor, Gabrielle): “[I had] my first pie and my first bloody lip on [this] show. They were made of whipped cream and mashed potatoes, which were being thrown at us from off camera. It wasn’t painful, but so ironic. I do all these bizarre fights and never get hurt. Then I do a pie fight with whipped cream and I get cut. We had a good time. Actually, we probably had more fun than we should have… We were all very tempted to toss the odd [pie] in [Lucy’s] direction. But because it was scripted that she not get hit, we had to keep her clean…. It must have been because she was pregnant.” (The Chakram Newsletter: #11)
Lucy Lawless (Actor, Xena): “I was standing off camera biffing pies with the art department. They were the ones doing the throwing. I wasn’t supposed to get hit until until the very end of the show, so, of course, I’m mucking with all the others just trying desperately hard to get Renee and Ted [Raimi, Joxer]. But the pies were a bit rough… The problem with [whipped cream] is that you can’t wash it off. You can’t do multiple takes. It doesn’t wash out of your hair, starts to smell and the floor gets greasy and dangerous. The man from E! Entertainment, Greg Agnew, was visiting the set that day and I said, ‘Oh, I’m gonna pie you during the filming.’ He was a good sport and said okay. So I smashed him in the face with this pie that was made of potato flakes that had been sitting around all day. It was as hard as a rock. He got a black eye! So did Renee. Phil Ivey, our art director, was the one who got me at the end of the episode.” (The Chakram Newsletter: #11)
Here is an on-set report of the production of “Punch Lines” from Titan: The Official XENA Magazine, Issue #3.
102. Season 5, Episode 12: “God Fearing Child” (Aired: 01/31/00 | Filmed: 11/22 – 12/01/99)
Xena’s baby is born after Hercules steps in to battle his father Zeus, who learns that the birth of the child will signal the end of the Olympian order.
Story by Chris Manheim | Teleplay by Roberto Orci & Alex Kurtzman | Directed by Phil Sgriccia | Production No. V0915
I featured this episode as #57 on my list of the 60 best episodes. Read my thoughts here.
CAST & CREW COMMENTARY:
Kevin Sorbo (Actor, Hercules): “I owed them a Xena. They had asked me years ago to do several Xenas, and I had only done one, so I owed them one. It was nice to go back down to New Zealand [and] visit old friends.” (Starlog Magazine #280 – November 2000)
Rob Tapert (Executive Producer/Writer/Director): “I’m really glad [Kevin Sorbo] did [this] episode. I can’t tell you how much I think of him for coming back to do [the] episode. It wasn’t all that hard [to get him]. He also wanted the chance to be a part of that story… I’ll cop to [this episode being more like a Hercules episode] and R.J. [Stewart] feels very strongly that it’s not a Xena episode. [But] it fulfilled an important function, and I can’t underestimate how this played into the season. Lucy was only available for half the episode, so we couldn’t make it a Xena-driven story. It had to have a big B runner, and what bigger B runner than Hercules and the beginning of the twilight of the gods? That was a very minor balance, but at the end of the day, I kind of liked it. There were aspects of it that were torturously manipulative, but I liked the death of Zeus at the hands of his son, the birth of Xena’s baby, and the way this huge melodrama got set in motion.” (Titan: The Official XENA Magazine, Issue #10 – September 2000)
Lucy Lawless (Actor, Xena): “I think I was back to work on [this episode] one month after having my baby and I really think it’s too soon to be jumping off boxes… Giving birth in film is not like giving birth in real life obviously. It’s much easier, much quicker… There are moments in the birth scene that are well documented things that happen during labor [like] you’re cold and then you’re hot and then you have the ‘transition tantrum,’ it’s called where your body kicks into another gear. And women very often turn around and [growl] at whoever’s trying to help them. It’s actually a good sign; it means you’re moving on. And so there’s a little bit of that in the scene where Gabrielle’s trying to help and Xena tells her to shut up.” (“God Fearing Child” Interviews w/ Cast & Crew – Season Five DVD Set)
Renee O’Connor (Actor, Gabrielle): “I remember the [opening] fight. It was so odd having Xena, and Gabrielle, and then Hercules in this big fight with all these stuntmen around. And it took me back to something. I’d never actually fought with Kevin [Sorbo] before, but it reminded me of [Season One’s] ‘Prometheus.’ I guess just having the two of [them] side by side… [The birth] was pretty graphic. Not that we did anything like a real birth, but I definitely felt for [Lucy] and I don’t think it took very much for [her] to remember what it was like… [But] I was more concerned with the baby being cold or hungry. [It was] covered in cream cheese… and jam.” (“God Fearing Child” Interviews w/ Cast & Crew – Season Five DVD Set)
Philip Sgriccia (Dirctor): “[In this episode, Ares] is basically this little puppy dog following [Xena] around trying to say, ‘I love you,’ when he can’t say it. It was a tough scene to do because they didn’t want to go overboard to make it sappy. Kevin [Smith], [was] a very professional, always prepared, funny – very funny – guy off set, and he and Lucy, they really liked each other… Charles [Keating] I had not worked with before. He is Zeus. He comes from a large theatre background and when he came in and that’s his real hair… I was like, ‘Oh my god. He’s got such presence.’.. Lucy had just had her baby. So that was one wrinkle, if you call it that, in the show. Just that we had to deal with her coming back. She was totally in shape and totally gung-ho for it though, so it was fun to see her tackle that… [Meanwhile] I think Kevin [Sorbo] was sensitive to his character, in that he didn’t want to take [a] life purposely. Within the sequence, we had it in such a way that Zeus was going to kill Xena and her baby, and Herc runs in and tackles him. And in the tackle and in the rolling over, the blade of the bone goes through Zeus’ chest… [And] Renee wanted to make sure everything was real [in the birth scene] and as real as possible. And I think Lucy said, ‘Don’t worry. I know how to get through this one.’… There was a nice moment where [Xena’s] talking to her new baby and the sun kind of peaks through and lit the baby face up towards the end, which I thought was quite nice to have happen in the middle of that scene, cause it was like the gods were shining down upon us, even though [some] weren’t around anymore.” (“God Fearing Child” Interviews w/ Cast & Crew – Season Five DVD Set)
Donald Duncan (Director of Photography): “[This] was one of the first episodes where we had a few crew changes as well, which was interesting… One of the most significant things for me was that Cameron McLean, who had been my camera operator ever since the beginning, had moved to do a second unit job on Lord Of The Rings, so I had a new camera operator, Dana Little, who stepped up to the plate and rose to the challenge and did a wonderful job on [this] episode… I remember it being very funny shooting the scene when Gabrielle puts on the helmet of invisibility and then she sneaks around and starts to beat up the bad guys. And watching these stunties try to beat themselves up and pretending there was someone there smacking the hell out of them was fantastic. They did a really good job of it. But we were sitting around, I think, after the first take and everyone was just cracking up seeing these guys throwing themselves about, pretending to be hit by an invisible foe… There’s a scene in a temple early on where Zeus and Ares have a long conversation and we had big shafts of light. I think there were six huge windows in that set. And that’s one of the classic cases were we put six big lights outside the windows and bounced them on mirrors to get a sharper more defined effect coming out the window and filled the set with smoke and get these big shafts of godlight coming through the windows… [And] there’s a sequence that we did under a huge big old tree out at… Bethels, where we did a lot of shooting, and the sun happened to be at a high angle shining down through the tree, and it was a very windy day. So all across the ground and all across the action area, we were getting this pattern of hard sunlight shade that would move in relationship to the tree branches and the tree leaves. And sometimes that’s kind of real difficult and you sort of fight it. But in this instance, I just thought, ‘I’ll run with it and use it.’ I love those kind of dynamic lighting effects that happen naturally in shot. And they give it kind of a visual interest that you otherwise might not have. So it was a lucky break.” (“God Fearing Child” Interviews w/ Cast & Crew – Season Five DVD Set)
Here is a scan of an interview that writer/producer Chris Manheim gave on “God Fearing Child” for The Chakram Newsletter: #11.
Here is an on-set report of the production of “God Fearing Child” from Titan: The Official XENA Magazine, Issue #5.
Come back next Thursday for more Xena! And tune in tomorrow for another Pre-Code Film Friday!