Some stories simply outlast the test of time, so great and legendary their status, so epic the tale. The myth of the hero Hercules comes to mind, to name just one.
From champion of Greek mythos to long-time Disney heartthrob, poor old Hercules has seen countless portrayals over the millennia, some more supernatural than others. Today we’re talking the 1994-era of VHS tapes and floppy disk hard drives. That’s right: we’re talking “Hercules: The Legendary Journeys” in retrospect.
Everyone Loves an Underdog
There’s something enduring about an underdog hero winning it big. In classic terms, Hercules’ story is one of a mortal man leveling all the way up to a deity, and the lasting appeal of his climb has led to endless spinoffs.
There are novels, both inspired and direct, like Agatha Christie’s “Twelve Labors.” There are Hercules-themed video games: “Hercules the Official Game” for Android takes the hack-and-slash approach, while Disney’s “Hercules” video game is a platformer full of character. Sites like Buzz Bingo even have the hero kitted out for a modern online slot game, complete in Nemean lion decor.
And who could forget Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson in the starring role of Hercules in the AAA blockbuster, “Hercules”? Back in 1995 however, we didn’t have Dwayne, Android or even the widespread. Goodness, no.
We had Kevin Sorbo instead, broadcasted live as the hero on national television.
The Legendary Journeys from A-Z
The premise of “Hercules: The Legendary Journeys,” a fun-filled costume adventure reboot, was and remains quite simple. Rather than return to Olympus after completing his 12 labors, as in the original story, Hercules takes it upon himself to remain on boring old Earth, wandering the globe and battling both magical and mundane villains alike. With cameos from its sister show, “Xena: Warrior Princess” and an entire canon of Greek beasts to draw from, the series takes on a bouncy and enjoyable dynamic for its six seasons.
Most episodes run for about 40 minutes, with typical plots involving Hercules and his companion Iolaus saving ancient Greek peasants from the wrath of a local baddie. Sometimes it’s a god, other times it’s a warlord or a wild animal. The backbone of the series overall though, it has to be said, is Hera, wife of Zeus and Hercules’ technical step-mother. In early seasons, it’s she who orchestrates most of the enemies Hercules encounters, jealous of our hero and the fact that he … well, exists.
Later on the warmongering god Ares (again a distant blood relative) gets some spotlight, and to top it all off there’s a proper truly evil deity to battle against toward the climax of the show. This is classic, rumble fun. It’s ’90s “Dungeons and Dragons” for television, only with more Greek stuff.
And we would have had more of it had Kevin Sorbo not declined to renew his contract. Instead we got “Young Hercules.” We got “Hercules and Xena – The Animated Movie,” and then Disney’s “Hercules” in 1997.
A shame perhaps, but “The Legendary Journeys” was nothing if not a product of its time, and plenty else got left behind at the turn of the millennium. For better or worse, we only have six series of the show. Should you go back and watch them? Maybe.
For those who grew up with Sorbo at home, the nostalgia alone might be enough to carry your experience. For newcomers, consider at least testing the waters.
No doubt there’ll be more HD Hercules to come for all us soon, but in the meantime there’s no harm in looking back.