It’s hard to argue that Hercules: The Legendary Journeys was ever anything other than escapist fluff. Nevertheless, it was extremely well-made escapist fluff, crafted by a cast and crew who obviously loved and cared about what they were doing. After a successful freshman year the series went into its second season with greater confidence that is evident in these 22 episodes. The slightly darker tones of the first season had been ironed out and transferred over to spin-off, Xena: Warrior Princess, leaving Hercules free to fully embrace its place as a light-hearted hour of fun for all the family. The series had found its niche and never once looked back. At least, not until the dark days of season five but that’s a story for a latter review.
Without a doubt this was the year that the show’s wonderful supporting cast began to finally take shape. We got to meet Bruce Campbell’s dashing Autolycus, the king of thieves. Kevin Smith (no, not the chubby filmmaker) made his first appearance in ‘What’s in a Name’ only not as Ares but rather as Hercules other resentful half-brother, Iphicles. And ‘The Apple’ sees the arrival of Hercules shallow but adorable sister, Aphrodite, played with full Valley Girl ditzy cuteness by Alexandra Tydings. Despite the influx of new characters the strength of the series still remained the great partnership of Hercules and Iolaus and the wonderful performances of Kevin Sorbo and Michael Hurst. Wisely the producers give Hurst more to do this year, recognising his versatility as an actor by giving him the odd episode to carry solo.
Like most TV shows of its time the series was predominately episodic rather than arc driven. There isn't even so much as a two parter this season. The only recurring element linking many episodes together remains Hercules tiresome ongoing struggle with his wicked step-mother Hera. This plotline continues to go no where and just feels like its dragging on and on with no hope of ever reaching any sort of conclusion.
Standout episodes include season opener ‘The King of Thieves’ which, rather obviously, sees the introduction of Autolycus. Hercules journeys into the underworld in ‘The Other Side’ the series own take on the legend of Persephone and Hades. And ‘Once A Hero’ sees Herc and Iolaus team up with King Jason and their fellow Argonauts to go after the Golden Fleece again and battle some nifty skeleton warriors that would make Ray Harryhausen proud. Rather disappointingly after such a strong run of episodes the season ends in low key fashion with a rather limp clip show (seriously, a clip show!). ‘The Wedding of Alcmene’, a reunion special that brought together almost every supporting character from the show’s first two seasons, would’ve made for a much more suitable finale.
It had a giant sea monster and everything.
Rating: * * * *