"...and Fancy Free"
by Michelle Erica Green

Disco Inferno

"...and Fancy Free" Plot Summary:

Hercules stumbles into the town of Rhumba during preparations for the annual Panathenaia, a dance contest tribute to the Muses. When he witnesses awkward Althea being ridiculed, he impulsively offers to become her dance partner. The town magistrate, who's pulling for his spoiled niece, makes sure that no local dance teachers will help the pair and sends thugs to break their legs, but Hercules and Althea are rescued by a parakeet which leads them to the widow Alice Twanky. She teaches them the essentials of beat, movement, and theatricality, and tells Althea the truth about her heritage.

Though they're up against assassins, as well as the girl's hermit of a father who resists her competing, Hercules learns to use his fighting skills as an asset in dancing, and Althea discovers that her mother was a dancer who died of a broken heart when she and Althea's father were barred from competing for using an illegal move. This discovery gives Althea the confidence she needs to become a virago on the dance floor, while Hercules struts his stuff, knocking out bad guys as he whips Althea around the room.

The evil magistrate accuses them of violating the rules just like Althea's parents, but Hercules asks the townspeople to follow the muses' inspiration. They win the contest, Althea becomes the most popular girl in town, and Herc's excuse of needing to leave to find Iolaus is foiled by the hot-blooded widow, who's not letting him get away so easily...


This episode had me laughing so hard even on a second viewing that I am sure I missed some good lines while trying to get control of myself - it might take a few tries to get through the whole thing. This was a very gutsy outing which could have fallen flat on its face. "Herc Does Footloose" was like a cross between Monty Python and the Holy Grail and John Waters' Hairspray, set during Mel Brooks' History of the World Part One - except it was funnier than any of them because it was short, and made every second count. "Edith Sidebottom" as the Widow Twanky stole the show, but Kevin Sorbo should win an Emmy just for being able to keep a straight face during some of the scenes.

Michael Hurst, usually Iolaus, had a far more interesting role this week, and directed this episode to perfection. He opens with a mock-Greek version of a rotating disco ball on a dance hall ceiling; as the band performs Glenn Miller rip-off swing, a human-powered smoke machine sets the mood for some ostentatious ballroom dance. The magistrate of Rhumba plays Michael Palin to the Widow's Eric Idle; his niece does a straight riff off the popular princess from every teen movie ever made. The show's full of one-liners and bad puns as usual, but there's so much going on visually that they almost don't matter: when Dad says Hercules can stay in the barn, for instance, Althea does a Deion Sanders sideline dance in the background.

Things to die for: the nasty niece's dance partner, Travoltus, and his Saturday Night Fever style. Althea watching Hercules guzzling lemonade, sweat dripping down his unclothed pecs (though you could see Sorbo's breath, so he must have been freezing). The music and closeups of Althea's father and Hercules when they first meet and size each other up. The parakeet. Twanke bursting into song. Hercules and Althea running on logs to foil their would-be assassins (picture Akbar and Jeff from Matt Groening's "Life in Hell"), as Hercules complains that he feels like a hamster. Twanky asking Hercules whether he's ever had a partner, Hercules mentioning Iolaus, and the widow exhorting him to pretend that she is Iolaus when he practices his dancing with her (you really have to see this one). The Rocky Horror Time Warp dance map. The mock-wedding Twanky performs between Herc and Althea: "Do you promise to trust each other, catch each other when you fall, as long as you both shall dance?"

I could go on like this for another several paragraphs, but I don't want to spoil everything, like the Superman reference or the musical jokes. If it hasn't been shown in your area yet, or if you get syndicated reruns, watch this episode. Even if you've never watched Hercules, even if you don't usually like Hercules...if you have any interest in camp, or the popular culture and humor of the past couple of decades, it's all in here, plus enough inside jokes to keep long-time series fans happy. I know that periodically over the next few weeks, I'm going to remember silly lines from this episode and start giggling spontaneously, and people are going to look at me like I'm nuts. It'll be worth it.

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