Weekly Wire
Weekly Alibi Hercy Jerky

By Devin D. O'Leary

DECEMBER 14, 1998:  Every generation has its own heroes. Apparently, this generation's hero is Hercules. Yeah, we stole him from the ancient Greeks, but you wouldn't know it to see the guy today. Flip around the Idiot Box and you'll find no less than three regular incarnations of the half-god hero--each hipper than the next.

First up, of course, was Sam (Evil Dead) Raimi's "Hercules: The Legendary Journeys." Begun as part of the "Action Pack" series of syndicated movies, Herc proved himself an able hero and was soon striking out on his own when the rest of the Action Pack crumbled. Now, three years down the line, "Herc" tops the syndicated ratings and has spawned a mega-successful spin-off series, "Xena: Warrior Princess."

As interpreted by affable beefcake posterboy Kevin Sorbo, Hercules is a friendly straight man--champion of the downtrodden, kind to kids and animals. Long gone is the temperamental, bearded superman of ancient myth and old Steve Reeves movies. Our '90s Herc is a sensitive new age guy who fights for mortals' rights but never carries a weapon.

In addition to the change in look and attitude, producers Sam Raimi and Robert Tappert settled on a free-wheeling, slapstick-heavy version of ancient Greece that seemed neither here nor there. Modern speech, anachronistic puns and an offbeat setting all became part of this Herc's action-comedy arsenal.

Walt Disney was listening loud and clear, because not long after "Hercules: The Legendary Journeys" became a hit, the mouse moguls announced plans for an animated version of their own. Though the film was less than successful (failing to break the magical $100 million mark), Disney recently plowed ahead with its own Herc TV show entitled "Disney's Hercules." Though it still relies heavily on modern speech, anachronistic puns and an offbeat setting, this cartoon's biggest asset is its colorful voice talent. Heather Locklear as sexy Nymphus, Bob Keeshan (Captain Kangaroo) as storyteller Aesop, Dan Castellaneta (the voice of Homer Simpson) as epic poet Homer and Kathie Lee Gifford as Echidna, the mother of all monsters, are just a few of the clever behind-the-scenes jokes this show has organized.

Although Disney borrowed the humor and style of "The Legendary Journeys," Raimi and Tappert paid Uncle Walt's empire back by lifting the plot of "Disney's Hercules" for their newest spin-off, "Young Hercules." Like "Disney's Hercules," FOX's recently added kiddy hit "Young Hercules" follows the adventures of a teenage Hercules as he attends a school for heroes-in-training. With its cranked-up slapstick and colorless teen stars, "Young Hercules" falls a distant third in our modern Hercules Olympics.


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