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.
33. Season 2, Episode 9: “A Solstice Carol” (Aired: 12/09/96 | Filmed: 07/29 – 08/06/96)
Xena and Gabrielle try to bring the warmth and spirit of the holiday season to a cold-hearted king who has outlawed the annual winter solstice celebration.
Written by Chris Manheim | Directed by John T. Kretchmer | Production No. V0209
Probably the sweetest episode of the entire series, this holiday excursion makes for perfect viewing during the Christmas/Solstice season. There’s not a lot of action or angst (two Xena hallmarks) in this installment, and casual viewers may be surprised to note exactly how excellent the series is at producing ‘warm and fuzzy’ episodes. But enjoy it while it lasts; it will be nearly impossible for the series to recapture (or even match) this level of uncloying sentimentality during the last four years. It’s not a personal favorite of mine — holiday shows usually aren’t — but I appreciate this installment, and think it’s a well done (especially with the incorporation of the Fates in their A Christmas Carol take-off) change-of-pace episode.
CAST & CREW COMMENTARY:
Chris Manheim (Writer): “You notice how most of the softies [like this episode] get thrown to me? ‘We can’t do a lot of fighting and it’s gotta be a six day show,’ [Rob says]. Yes, this was our Christmas episode… another fun one. It has everything but the kitchen sink in it: Christmas, the very first Santa Claus, [etc.]. The donkey story was from R.J.’s childhood, ‘Here throw this one in.’ Once I got the key to the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future being the Fates, the mythological hook into it, that really opened it up. [Working with John Kretchmer, the director] was a pretty good collaboration. I really like John and he did an excellent job. He was constantly on the phone, which I really appreciated, asking, ‘What if we did this, could we do that?’ He was always in touch with me.” (Whoosh! Interview – February 1999)
Lucy Lawless (Actor, Xena): “I don’t read scripts until generally four days before the first day of shooting, and I think I read [this] one about two days before. All of a sudden, I had to pull out these two extra characters. And I only ever do that once I get into a costume. You know, it’s just a total surprise for me what’s going to come out! I have all these options and maybe the director doesn’t like one, so I’ve got to go in a completely new direction. But [with so little time] I had to fake it, just as Xena would have in order to pull out those two new characters, which worked out fine. For one [of the Fates] I drew on [the character of] Julia Child, because she struck me as having just the most outrageous voice.” (The Official Guide To The Xenaverse by Robert Weisbrot – 1998)
Chris Manheim (Writer): “When I came on, I was told, ‘You’ll be writing the Christmas episode.’ One of Rob’s favorite movies is the Alastair Sim’s A Christmas Carol, which is also my favorite version, and when we talked about it, I said, ‘We could do the Ghost of Christmas Past; we can use the Fates.’ R.J. [Stewart] remembered a story he had heard as a child, The Little One, about this donkey, and that ended up in our Christmas show as wall, so it has everything you can imagine in it. [This] will probably be our only Christmas show. We’ll be showing it at Christmas every year.” (Starlog Magazine Yearbook – August 1998)
34. Season 2, Episode 10: “The Xena Scrolls” (Aired: 01/13/97 | Filmed: 06/28 – 07/04/96)
In 1940 Macedonia, a determined archaeologist and a visitor to her excavation site stumble upon the “Xena Scrolls,” ancient manuscripts that chronicle the Warrior Princess’s adventures.
Story by Robert Sidney Mellette | Teleplay by Adam Armus & Nora Kay Foster | Directed by Charlie Haskell | Production No. V0208
I’ve noted before on this blog how brilliant the writers and producers were at crafting their annual clip shows. While last season’s was well designed (but hardly entertaining), this installment beams with originality and is miraculously entertaining. For the first time, the series steps out of its B.C. shackles, and with a balls-to-the-wall determination, crafts a ridiculously fun story about the descendants of Xena, Gabrielle, and Joxer, who, while in the process of discovering the legendary Xena Scrolls, must protect them from Nazis, and keep Ares from escaping his entombment. (This plot thread, as I’ve also noted before on this blog, really should have been addressed in Season Six’s “Soul Posession.”) Entertaining episode, nothing riveting, but totally unique and brave.
CAST & CREW COMMENTARY:
Adam Armus (Writer): “[Our inspiration?] Two words: Indiana Jones. A former writer’s assistant created the idea of the Xena Scrolls for a web site. We were told to write a clip show based on the site.” (Titan: The Official XENA Magazine, Issue #7 – June 2000)
Lucy Lawless (Actor, Xena): “[This episode] was a bit of a landmark for me personally, because I flew into a huge rage with the director, Charlie Haskell. Charlie had been the second-unit director on Hercules for a very long time. And I’ve known him for many years, since my very first gig ever, [the New Zealand TV show] Funny Business, way back when. I even quite fancied him then, I think! Anyway, I think Charlie Haskell is a great guy and he wouldn’t mind me telling this story in terms of just honesty and about life. I got very angry and I didn’t know why. It’s just the rotten feeling I had about the way I was being covered [by the camera], and it took me days to put my finger on what was wrong. Charlie had come from Hercules, and for him I was just Lucy from seven years ago. And he had covered the show as if I was fifth-string. I couldn’t put my finger on what was wrong, but there was no presentation of a ‘star.’ And I, as an animal, didn’t like it, and I, as a business person, sensed there was something wrong with that. He was just reading the script as if it was totally isolated from the show Xena: Warrior Princess. And so he gave no credence to the fact that Xena, the main character, in whatever guise, is still the star. I don’t think I got one close-up. You know, if you’re counting close-ups, a close-up tells the story. And it doesn’t matter where she is [in the week’s episode], you have to present the star. You see, stars are not born, they are crafted and they are presented. I don’t mind playing second-string to Renee, but I will not play second-string to Ares, or whomever. It’s all a matter of presentation, how you frame the shot, where you stick an actor in a scene. And Charlie was not mindful of that. And it took me until two days left on the shoot to work out what the hell was wrong. That was a huge turning point for me, where I started to go, ‘No, that ain’t going to happen again.’ And I started to ‘take my power,’ if you will, to understand what the business is about and take some measure of control. Because I realize that directors very often have come off of a million other shows. They don’t know [this] show as well as I do. And I will still bow to their input – they are the final arbiters, generally, unless I really feel something is wrong. And with me it’s a gut feeling, and I’m learning how to put forth that in a [more] constructive manner.” (The Official Guide To The Xenaverse by Robert Weisbrot – 1998)
Kevin Smith (Actor, Ares): “[Director] Charlie Haskell, he and I used to be buddies way back fifteen years ago at college. Through totally separate routes, he went to film school and I started acting, but we did not start doing it until our mid-20’s. So, we just bummed around for years and we ended up working together on this thing. And man, he likes Ares to be a really sick puppy. We came up with cool things for him to say. There’s a line [here] where he says, ‘The world thinks it’s seen death and destruction now. Wait’ll they get a load of me!’ Which is straight from the Joker inBatman (1989).Another one, we sort of lifted fromNaked Gun (1988) because there is a certain tongue-in-cheek element to Ares. There is a campiness, just part of the nature of the guy. Charlie had this idea where at the end… when Ares gets trapped in there… he wanted Ares bursting out of the ground on a motorcycle. It was a bit too much though. That’s the sort of fun we can have with the characters.” (Whoosh! Interview – July 1997)
Ted Raimi (Actor, Joxer): “There was never a boring moment on the set during [this] episode, and I’m a character actor, so you’re asking me to do what I love to do best… It was also an incredibly clever way to have a clip show. It could have easily been Lucy, Renee and me around a fire, saying, ‘Oh Joxer, you knucklehead, do you remember when–?’ But [writers] Adam [Armus] and Nora Kay [Foster] put so much work into that script that it really shines.” (Starlog Magazine Yearbook – August 1998)
Renee O’Connor (Actor, Gabrielle): “We had a great time on [this] one, and I thought Ted was wonderful with his accent; everybody spent so much time laughing on the set… I watched a couple of the Indiana Jones films beforehand, since we were definitely ripping off the characters, and I had a great time playing it up. I decided to go with it all, especially the cigar smoking, which was a first. You should have seen me practicing for that – they kept the film rolling, and I think it was a test to see how long I could keep smoking without gagging. It was pretty hilarious.” (Starburst Magazine #228 – July 1997)
Here is an on-the-scene account of the pre-production and read-through for “The Xena Scrolls” from Weisbrot’s The Official Guide To The Xenaverse.
Come back next Thursday for two more Xena episodes! And tune in tomorrow for another Gable film!