One of the most overlooked, yet one of the most influential of all 90s genre series, ‘Hercules: The Legendary Journeys’ (1995-1999) was pure escapism in its finest form. It started out as more of a straight forward fantasy series, but over time it began to branch out to include other genres. The stylized reimagining of the classic hero captured fans’ the world over with its imaginations.
Based on the tales of the classical Greek culture hero Heracles (Hercules was his Roman analog). The series was a ’90s action series about mythical monsters and gods and battles between forces of good and evil. Starring Kevin Sorbo as Hercules and shot in New Zealand, the series portrayed a more light-hearted and often tongue-in-cheek take on the adventures of that classic hero of Greek mythology, Hercules. He is as good as they come, thanks to his high moral standards, his willingness to fight for what he believes in, and his emphasis on inspiring those around him with his civic-minded actions.
The depiction of Hercules is essentially the Greek myth remolded into brightly colored comic book heroics. This show’s ancient hero was a Superman of the ancient world, equally adept at fighting giant monsters and evil gods as he was getting kittens out of trees. It’s the kind of hero that movies nor television no longer seems to have any time for.
The long-haired Sorbo plays a good-looking and athletic Hercules as he fights monsters and gods. The character throughout the series often jokes and laughs and pokes fun at himself. The show is lighthearted and far from meant to be taken seriously. The campy sense of humor is complemented by the wacky Hong Kong-style action. The fight scenes are wild and well-choreographed, but they’re always done with a wink in the eye.
Hercules is the central figure in the show – naturally – the son of a mortal woman named Alcmene and Zeus the king of the gods. Though Hercules’s relationship with his mother is very close, his father throughout most of his life remains a distant, shadowy figure. The show more regularly features Michael Hurst as his sidekick Iolaus. Rotating as Hercules’ other regular companion, particularly in earlier seasons, is Salmoneus (Robert Trebor), a wheeler-dealer ever looking to make a quick drachma.
The series could be exceptional cheesy, but luckily the series also possessed a brilliantly knowing sense of humor that helped you to overcome the b-grade special effects and the occasional blunt moral lesson for the kiddies. With the typical plotline involving Hercules and Iolaus saving rustic villagers from monsters, evil warlords, or the often selfish whims of the gods. There was also comedy and episodes often had “in-jokes” about modern themes.
The series was produced from 1995 to 1999. It ran for six seasons, producing action figures and other memorabilia as it became one of the highest-rated syndicated television shows in the world at that time. The show was over in 1999 and Kevin Sorbo was ready to pack up his bags and move on (to Canada to make Andromeda). But there is no real sense that things are coming to an end in the show, in the final episode Hercules and Iolaus, after a brief retirement, continue to do what they’ve always done: fighting monsters and saving people – its the perfect ending really since life would go on for our dynamic duo, even if we weren’t there to witness it.
The series spawned two iconic TV series from the same era, Xena: Warrior Princess (1995-2001) and Young Hercules (1998-1999). With which it shared recurring characters such as Ares (Kevin Smith), Autolycus (Bruce Campbell), Salmoneus (Robert Trebor), Aphrodite (Alexandra Tydings), Deimos/Strife (Joel Tobeck) and Callisto (Hudson Leick). Young Hercules aired on Fox Kids Network and starred a young Ryan Gosling in the title role.
The Opening of Hercules: The Legendary Journeys (1995-1999)
- Hercules is a campy romp but the show works since and its actors are having such fun with the roles, and neither they nor the producers are taking the character and the setting too seriously.
- The show is some truly excellent TV comfort food.