“Xena: Warrior Princess” has long been a cult sensation among those old enough to remember the optimism of the mid-to-late ’90s. It follows Xena, a beautifully powerful Byronic hero, as she travels the countryside with her best friend and true love, Gabrielle. Together they fight evil wherever they find it — including the evil in themselves — and learn profound lessons about the world along the way.
I was only 9 years old when the finale aired, but I recently discovered that all six seasons are available on Netflix and officially have a more examined appreciation for this series. I would like to share it with you so that you too might rediscover or be introduced to one of the best things that television has ever offered.
As an adult, becoming personally invested in this show is not difficult. If you do choose to commit, the first thing you’ll notice is the masterfully over-the-top introduction.
An epic narration describing “Xena: Warrior Princess,” plays over action-packed clips and is paired with what I believe to be one of the greatest works of theme music ever. It elicits memories that, if you grew up watching like I did, hit you like a chakram to the chest. If you didn’t spend your formative years staring in awe at the sword spinning, ululating warrior though, you probably don’t know what a chakram is.
The show itself is a magnificent achievement, combining history and creative story telling in original and significant ways.
It is set in ancient Greece, so it takes many of its plots and characters straight out of the history and mythology of the era. But this context is anything but limiting, as the writers took extreme creative liberties with timelines.
In one episode, Xena becomes a participant in the story of David and Goliath, and not many episodes later, she fights in the Trojan War. This disregard for chronology is definitely cheesy, but executive producer Sam Raimi has always had a knack for making cheesiness entertaining by infusing irresistible self-awareness. In this case it comes from the sophisticated knowledge of ancient history. In darker episodes, biblical symbolism is also expertly demonstrated throughout the series.
These brilliant plots arrive at perfectly satisfying ends almost every time, and they don’t leave you stressed until the next episode, like most modern shows. In a time before “Lost” and “Game of Thrones,” there was no such thing as a practical way to record television.
Each episode of a TV show was a self-encapsulated story with a setup, climax and conclusion. There were running story arcs and continuous character development. With only a few exceptions, you could miss an episode one week and continue watching the next without having to give up on the show entirely.
For this reason, you can watch “Xena: Warrior Princess” any way you want. In order to really get into it though, you should watch the 132 episodes in order, as they were first intended to be seen. But keep in mind that production value was not this show’s strong suit early on.
After a few episodes, flip over to the series from which “Xena: Warrior Princess” began as a spin-off: “Hercules: The Legendary Journeys,” also on Netflix.
Starring Kevin Sorbo, it is vastly inferior in substance but still fun to watch. Three episodes of the first season focus on Xena’s origin story, and they will shatter your world in the best ways.
If you continue to watch the Warrior Princess’ development after this, there will be nothing to stop you from becoming a full-on Xenite.
“Xena: Warrior Princess” was one of the first shows to feature a strong but flawed female protagonist. It was maniacally versatile, alternating between intense drama one week, then embarrassing silliness the next. To do the things that this series did took courage.
Now the show is available to a whole new generation, and as its opening sequence predicts: “Her courage will change the world,” again.
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