cast: Tony Robinson, Kate Lonergan, Wayne Morris, and Danny John Jules
creator: Tony Robinson
146 minutes (U) 2005
Eureka DVD Region 2 retail
reviewed by Alasdair Stuart
Tony Robinson has been the face of popular archaeology for so long now it’s easy to forget that his career has taken in a lot more than Time Team and Blackadder. During the 1980s and 1990s, Robinson was a dynamo of children’s entertainment, turning in the astonishing one-man retelling of the story of Odysseus and the inspired lunacy of Maid Marian And Her Merry Men. One of the best children’s TV shows of the last 20 years, it begins a long overdue run on DVD with this set.
The premise is wonderfully simple; Marian was the real brains behind the gang, consistently outmanoeuvring the Sheriff of Nottingham and saving the day only to have Robin claim all the credit. Although given that the ‘Merry Men’ include the splendidly chinless Robin (Wayne Morris), Rastafarian Barrington (Danny John Jules), fighting mad Little Ron (Mike Edmonds) and the cheerfully stupid Rabies (Howard Lew Lewis) she often spends as much time arguing with them as fighting the Sheriff (Robinson) and King John (Forbes Collins).
And that’s basically it. Most episodes break down the same way, with Marian & Co bickering amongst themselves, the peasants being spectacularly stupid and the Sheriff and King being both stupid and evil. However, what makes the series work so beautifully is the combination of Robinson’s scripts and the central cast. No joke is too low, no pun too obvious, no pratfall too telegraphed – and the end result is a gleefully shameless exercise in outright, abject silliness. Robinson excels at this sort of comedy and every episode throws jokes at the wall with manic energy and a total disregard for common sense.
Even better, it’s a disregard shared by the entire cast. Kate Lonergan is superb as the supremely bossy Marian and her constant bickering with Wayne Morris’ yuppie Robin provides the show with most of its best moments. However, the other Merry Men all get their fare share of the action, with Mike Edmonds’ fight-obsessed little Ron, and Danny John Jules’ super-cool Barrington being the real standouts. Throw in some great musical numbers and a theme tune so catchy they’ve included a karaoke version on the DVD and you have a real winner.
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Gloriously stupid, wilfully over the top and great fun from start to finish, this is one of the gems of 1980s’ children’s TV. It’s also got a great set of extras including the karaoke theme tune, a commentary by Robinson, a quiz, a comic written by Robinson and an except from the German dubbed version of the show. So do yourself a favour and revisit Sherwood Forest with this great series. Just be warned, you’ll be humming that theme tune for ages.