9 March 2010

At the urging of a friend, I’ve watched four episodes of the BBC show “Robin Hood” and find myself frustrated with it. And after advancing a series of arguments about how it could have been better, I find myself at the bottom of a logical rabbit hole. It has to do with darkness.

First the obvious: The star, Jonas Armstrong, is hopeless. He’s a twerp — smug, skinny, twitchy, lacks gravitas. He’s Robin as a skater-dude with all the sex appeal of a Jonas Brother (how fortuitous the name). After a single scene you’re convinced that you have no desire for his lips — so it’s no surprise that Lucy Griffiths, as Marion, doesn’t either. Richard Armitage as Guy of Gisbourne, on the other hand, possesses everything Robin lacks, as my friend here ably argues. Not to mention three dimensions and an appealing set of inner conflicts between greed, ambition, and that luscious Lucy Griffiths.

So what is this show doing? It’s not merely another retelling of Robin for young viewers, although I can see that kind of appeal. Armitage is too good and the references to a larger War on Terror are too frequent. It’s a show that hasn’t found itself, or at least not in its first season. It’s trying to please the Disney viewers with a preteen idol like Armstrong but it also wants something more — I can’t imagine how much the writers argue at their meetings.

Here’s my train of thinking: First I found myself arguing that it needs more “Dark Knight”-style long, elegant explanations of Robin’s motives, inner conflicts, experiences overseas on the Crusades, etc. Then I decided to abandon Robin entirely, making an argument that the real protagonist should be Gisbourne — turning it into a kind of “Wicked” take on the Robin Hood classic. This led me to think about all the dark heroes we have now, from the Christian Bale version of Batman to Harry Potter wrestling with his own dark impulses and fuzzy morality. Even the wide-eyed Tobey Maguire turned Spider-Man into a complicated man by the end.

In an age of terror, we’ve turned our heroes into dark figures. None of them wear white anymore. “Robin Hood” is sophomoric because it refuses to engage fully with our new, bleak canon. (But I’ve only seen four episodes. And even though this promotional image looks, to me, like Robin in a hoodie, it’s grasping at something darker.)