To me there are probably only two fantasy television series that have been really worth-while watching: “Hercules: The Legendary Journeys” and its spin-off “Xena: Warrior Princess”. That is why I have placed these series at the top of my list of best fantasy TV series.
Produced by the same director (Sam Raimi: also responsible for the great movie Army of Darkness and the new television series Spartacus: Blood and Sand), with many of the same actors playing in both series and filmed at the same locations in New Zealand, Hercules and Xena have very much in common. Both have a light style, with lots of humor and action with as few casualties as possible. However, there are enough differences between the two series to justify the question: which show was best?
Hercules: The Legendary Journeys
Kevin Sorbo plays the role of Hercules, the half-god Hercules who travels around with his friend Iolaus through Ancient Greece saving innocent villagers from tyrants and monsters while the gods try to involve him in their games.
It is the typical story of good versus evil: Hercules is the personification of everything good who will never do an bad thing, while his opponents are evil to the bone. Combine this with unrealistic fighting in which nobody ever gets hurt badly or dies, cheap television sets and over the top acting, and you may expect Hercules to be one of the worst television series ever. But quite to the contrary, for some reason it all comes together in a rather brilliant show. The light storylines, cheesy humor and the loads of action somehow make the episodes very easily watchable and entertaining, which make you accept the moralistic points raised in the stories.
Xena: Warrior Princess
As a spin-off of Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, Xena had similar story lines, often the same actors and also the same look and feel. However, the series also brought some extra spice to the screen. Xena, played by Lucy Lawless, used to be a bad-ass rebel herself but, inspired by Hercules, decides to change her ways and help people.
Compared to Hercules, Xena had a bit more of a dark edge, both in the storylines as well as in the kind of humor used. For one thing, a lot more people get killed. The stories were also less focused on the games played by Greek gods and more open to other mythologies.
The series gained more of a cult status than Hercules, with a climax being the supposed lesbian relationship between Xena and her companion Gabrielle.
My favourite is… Xena
It is not an easy choice but if I have to pick my favourite out of these two shows, I would go for Xena: Warrior Princess. Of course, we have to give credit to Hercules: Xena would never have gotten her own series without the popularity of Hercules. However, whereas Hercules remained a series about a nice, friendly half-god always doing the right thing, Xena became more exciting, with more spicy and better story lines.
As indicated, it’s a close call but in the end being a man, I rather watch Xena and Gabrielle hitting it off than Hercules and Iolaus strolling through the wilderness.