Hercules Saves His Show
"For Those Of You Just Joining Us" Plot Summary:
In a rerun of last season's "One Fowl Day," Hercules comes face to face with a giant chicken. A hand holding a remote interrupts the picture. It's B.S. Hoffinfoffer, the fictitious exec from "Yes, Virginia, There Really Is a Hercules," who is outraged at the stupid concept of Hercules vs. a giant chicken. When Autolycan producer Rob Tapert defends the episode, saying he's never cared about quality programming, B.S. informs him that he has one week to get more action, romance and Salmoneus guest appearances into the show, then throws him out, as snooping assistant Melissa Blake and producer Liz Friedman laugh.
Meanwhile, "Kevin Sorbo" is driving a sports car through L.A. when Ares appears in his car, torturing a Hercules action figure. Ares announces that the show's about to be cancelled and then Hercules' little disguise will be ruined. A suspicious Hercules determines that Ares is after advertising rights to make up for the weekly insults he has to put up with, then throws him out of the car. Back at Renaissance Productions, head writer Jerry Patrick Brown (who looks like Ares with a wad of tobacco in his cheek) rides up on his motorcycle just as the drunken, panic-stricken Paul Robert Coyle falls out of his car. Tapert arrives with Friedman to tell them all that they have to work together and boost morale, then informs Coyle that his last script sucked. To remedy the situation, he has booked them a few days at a corporate retreat.
At Camp Wannachuck, chipper girl scout Sunny Day, who's even perkier than Gabrielle, and her assistant Norma Bates (Morrigan with butcher knife) tells the group that they combine corporate techniques with ancient Navajo rituals to make the group dynamics work better. The crew is just thrilled. Tapert falls onto his head during an exercise in trust, but in his delirium he brainstorms the idea of killing Iolaus. Sorbo - I mean Hercules - arrives late, interrupting Tapert's various ideas of having Iolaus eaten by a giant dinosaur or dropping an Acme weight on him out of the sky. Hercules slips up and talks about the real Iolaus' life, but quickly recovers and suggests the Dahok storyline in which Iolaus nobly sacrificed himself for Nebula and died in Hercules' arms. Everyone is sobbing when he finishes talking, even Brown, but Hercules demurs that he's just an actor.
On the way to lunch, Tapert asks Hercules whether he'd like to wrestle Xena on pay-per-view, while Coyle hits on Blake. Sunny Day, whistling the Xena theme music, serves lunch, but Hercules sniffs the air, then "accidentally" trashes the table so the food is ruined. Sunny is impressed at how quickly he admits to being a screw-up. Later, in a primitive spa, the group attempts to get in touch with their spiritual sides - except for Friedman, who's still in a business suit - and Tapert suggests a storyline where Hercules finds him spiritual side (envisioned as a Church of Consciousness guy from the Airplane movies). Hercules points out that his whole life is a spiritual quest, and suggests that instead he should have a crisis of faith after Iolaus' death. He pitches the Druid arc, which the group loves, but Hercules demurs that he's just an actor.
Liz stops smoking long enough to suggest sending Hercules to Ireland, which Tapert envisions with bagpipes and a cartoon leprechaum. Hercules instead suggests that the arc continue with Hercules saving and converting Morrigan, which everyone applauds, but Hercules demurs that he's just an actor. Then suddenly, just as they're getting dizzy from the steam and a farting Coyle is putting the moves on Blake, the door is barred and they're trapped. "Hey, look everyone! It's Mel Torme!" shouts Hercules to distract them while he uses super-human strength to knock down the door. They all walk out in order of descending salary and roast marshmallows, thinking deep thoughts - Coyle wants Blake, Brown wants war, Hercules is afraid of being found out, Friedman is furious that the bastards cancelled Ellen until Norma Bates arrives to make eyes at her. Sunny says Norma hasn't been the same since Ginger Spice left the group.
The writers look to Hercules, who pitches a Norse storyline in which Hercules meets a good God. It continues the Dahok storyline and clarifies the series' attitude about destiny (and the lack of need for historical realism) since we make our own destinies. Tapert has heard quite enough (though Hercules demurs that he's just an actor) and declares that it's time to go home, but Sunny Day arrives with a gun, forcing them into an abandoned mine! This gives Hercules another great idea - what if Hercules was betrayed by the least likely person, namely Iolaus, whose body could be taken over by Dahok? Even Sunny is impressed (though Hercules demurs that he's just an actor), but she prepares to kill Sorbo nonetheless. However, Norma Bates enters and fights Sunny. The gun goes off and, like Xena's chakram, ricochets off the walls, causing the cave to collapse before Hercules (taking advantage of everyone's distraction) uses a fallen beam to shore it up.
Once the crisis is averted, Hercules pulls off Sunny's disguise: she's really B.S. Hoffinfoffer! Herc could smell poison in the slop at lunch, which is why he ditched the table, and he heard Sunny singing Figaro in baritone. The clincher, however, came when Norma handed him a note saying, "Sunny Day is B.S. Hoffinfoffer." Tapert demands to know who Norma is; she's studio security. Just then Ares himself pops in, infuriated. B.S. admits that he threw in his lot with the God of War because the former wanted his own network and the latter is tired of good guys always winning. "You'll never work in this town again!" Ares announces to the exec, who retorts, "Wherever there's television, there will always be B.S.!"
While Jerry finds it comforting that there is a real God of War, Blake demands to know whether this means there's a real Hercules. Heads turn, but Hercules demurs that he's just an actor.
What is there to say, really, other than HOWL! Like its predecessor, "Yes, Virginia," this episode might not have been so much fun for non-die-hard fans who don't know who the players are...some of the humor is dependent on knowing the reputations of the writers and producers, though I suspect (hope) that they are wildly exaggerated. I have read that Coyle is supposedly a slob, that Friedman is supposedly a lesbian, that Brown is supposedly completely insane...interestingly, Tapert is portrayed rather blandly, and the fact that he is married to Lucy Lawless is never brought up, a real pity as it would be hilarious to see him interacting with either Lawless or Xena in one of these alternate realities even with Bruce Campbell playing him.
There is something undeniably charming about the notion that Kevin Sorbo is Hercules. It's one of those funny actor/character blurs which take place anyway with superheroes, which is why actors are expected to behave like role models, and why fans are sometimes convinced that various actors are in love with each other even though they're projecting based on their characters. Sorbo comes across as a very likeable, approachable public figure, the sort of guy one would expect Hercules to pretend to be; it enhances both of their reputations to be associated with one another, which is really a great tribute to Sorbo and how real he has made this comic-book hero.
The writers of this series obviously have no problem laughing at themselves and pointing out their own pitfalls, which is an asset not only in parody episodes but in the serious ones: they know how close they come to excess and that they sometimes overdo it. They also seem to realize that the archetypes they're playing with are so timeless that they can get away with changing the setting and even the characters...just not the faces. This episode did a fine job summing up the season to date for those just joining us, but more importantly it did a good job of capturing what makes this series so much fun.