"Buddha's Bowl"
Original airdate: Week of September 20, 1999
by Michelle Erica Green

A Treasure of a Premiere

"Buddha's Bowl" Plot Summary:

Several hundred years B.C., a group of men fight over a bowl that makes coins magically appear. Siddhartha appears, telling the men not to envy one another and advising a would-be thief that if he believes in himself, he will receive all the riches he needs.

Flash forward a few centuries to Trinity College, where new teaching assistant, Nigel Bailey, arrives to meet Professor Sydney Fox...who at the moment is performing a tribal dance with a bunch of half-naked men in front of a roomful of students. When she finishes the "lecture," she strips to her bra in front of Nigel, warning him while she dresses that her goal is to keep the students excited about history.

This inauspicious meeting is interrupted when Sydney is summoned by the curator of the museum, who says a group of men have arrived with the location of the legendary Buddha's Bowl, in the Nepalese city of Kusinara where the Buddha died. They offer a few local coins for help in recovering the artifact so that they can build a shrine. Meanwhile, in Hong Kong, someone else is interested in the holy relic: a young man named Michael, who has squandered his family's fortune and fears his father's disappointment. Michael has hired a mercenary named Stewie to help him find the bottomless bowl's riches.

In Nepal with Sydney, an apprehensive Nigel notes that he wasn't expecting so much travel on the job. Then he nearly gets in trouble while gambling with Stewie. Meanwhile, Sydney explores the basement of a restaurant and finds a hidden secret compartment...but the fish-shaped indentation is empty. Upstairs she accosts Stewie, who calls her "Sweet Cheeks," and demands to know the location of the missing Koi. He shows her the fish sculpture, but when Nigel is detained in the ensuing brawl, his employer stays to bail him out, letting Stewie get away. She catches up with him later in a small town near the hidden location of Kusinara, but Stewie steals Nigel's watch before Sydney can deck him and take the koi.

Locals tell Sydney that the koi is the key and that the fountain holds the answers. Finding a fountain with a series of fish sculptures, she replaces the one taken from Stewie, and the water drains to reveal a message in gold with a Buddha, an eye, and symbols directing her to the location of the bowl. Nigel gets exhausted on the hike there and strips his shirt off when beetles cling to him, but they arrive and hunt around before realizing the giant Buddha statue is right beneath them.

Citing the eye symbol from the message, Sydney tells Nigel that in Buddhist teaching, the third "inner eye" is a path into people's souls, so it must be the key to getting inside the giant Buddha. Sure enough, they find an entrance through the eye and make their way to the Buddha's belly, where the archaeologist is sure they will find the bowl. Enormous cockroaches momentarily stop the pair, giving Stewie a chance to catch up with them.

Sydney regains the upper hand by stalling Stewie with a warning from a previous expedition, but all three are trapped in the chamber with the Buddha's Bowl when hidden walls fall around them and begin filling up with sand. Stewie explains to Nigel why he calls Sydney "Sweet Cheeks" - it involves a wasp sting in an unfortunate spot and a cure involving marmalade - then says that since they're all going to die, he might as well admit it: "I'm a schmuck."

Sydney recalls that in Buddhist teaching, one is supposed to accept pain and fear rather than resisting in order to conquer them. She orders the others to relax, then to chant. The sound waves from their voices trigger a lever which stops the chamber from filling with sand, but when the room is clear again, the bowl is missing. A mysterious figure in red announces that he took it and will give it to the person with greatest need. Just then Michael arrives, saying he needs the bowl to save his family fortune. Sydney is shocked when the young man is chosen to receive the bowl, since his need is greater than the villagers who want to build a shrine.

Yet the bowl remains empty, and Michael realizes that if the bowl gives people what they most need, then what he most needs must be to face his father and admit his misdeeds. Stewie is horrified, demanding to be paid for his work. Sydney takes the bowl on behalf of the villagers, promising to guard it. When Nigel laments that the expedition has cost him his watch, Sydney shows him the bowl...where the watch has reappeared.

Life seems to be good until Sydney learns that one of the coins given her by the villages at the beginning - which she assumed were of little value - turned out to be a rare Fourth Century piece which was worth a fortune. She had given it to Stewie as a memento.


If Lara Croft had been conceived as Indiana Jones, Tomb Raider might be a lot more like Relic Hunter - and I'd probably like it a lot better. While there's little that's original in the pilot episode of the new syndicated series, there's a lot to enjoy. The opening credits evoke Raiders of the Lost Ark both in the academic setting and the sepia-tone shots of expeditions; if it weren't for the gorgeous woman wearing nothing but a bra and an unzipped skirt, the viewer might think this series wasn't present-day, especially after seeing the ancient globe in the final frame.

There's plenty of eye candy for both sexes: Sydney dances in revealing clothes and parades around in black lace underwear, Nigel peels off his shirt when beetles climb on him and leaves it off for the next ten minutes. The press kit for this series said the producers had looked for "a Hugh Grant type" to play Nigel; short of hiring Grant himself, they could not have come closer. Christien Anholt has the same rounded. boyish face and the same hairdo as Grant, plus he plays the same wide-eyed goofy over-educated British type Grant does so well. It's nice to see a guy playing prim and proper to a woman who's fearless in the field, roaches notwithstanding (hey, everyone gets one vice). He's out of his league, yet he's not feminized. Both main characters skirt the edges of cliché, yet the actors bring a fresh, funny edge to them.

Tia Carrere has never had a role as strong as Sydney Fox, and she clearly relishes it. Though her clothes and hair stay a bit too perfect on the trek through Nepal, she's more convincing as an explorer than one expects from the opening scenes where she is delightful but not at all believable as a history professor at a traditional Gothic university. Her student secretary Claudia is supposed to be her link to the modern world (when Sydney tells Nigel that Claudia worships Marilyn, he asks, "Monroe?" and she replies, "Manson"). I imagine the producers are going to have a harder time making Sydney convincing as a tenured teacher and researcher than as a relic hunter.

The look of the show is uneven: some of the location shots look just the way one expects Nepal to look, others resemble a park in Toronto with a few quirkily dressed actors placed strategically on benches. Carrere clearly knows her martial arts, but the angles from which some of the fight shots were filmed - chosen, one suspects, to show off her butt in those tight pants - make her look rather unimpressive. I know very little about Buddhism so I can't comment on the plausibility of the plot of this episode, but it was very enjoyable to watch, with quite a lot of humor from Nigel and Stewie, whom I hope will be a recurring character.

In coming episodes, it would be nice to learn there's more to Nigel's background than just a nice safe Cambridge education, and it would be nice to see more overt sexual tension developing between the two attractive leads. It's hard to say whether there will be more to this series than just an hour of Hercules-type fun, but even if there's not, Relic Hunter's unearthing treasures so far.

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