The cast/crew bit: written & directed by plus starring Tony Robinson, also starring Kate Lonrgan and Wayne Morris
The ten-word synopsis: An alternative take on Robin Hood, where Marians’ in control.
You know your scripts an absolute winner when you can make a program that remains funny despite a distinct inability to act from your lead actress. Maid Marian and her Merry Men is possibly the funniest childrens TV show ever made, but it’s no thanks to Marian herself, Kate Lonergan. Originally broadcast in 1989, the program is the brain child of Blackadders’ Tony Robinson, with Richard Curtis also involved less prolifically (Reportedly, a number of jokes cut from Blackadder where thrown into MMAHMMs’ script, despite Curtis receiving no credit for them). Based on the old story of Robin Hood and what goes on in Sherwood Forest, it throws enough twists in place to be entertaining without the barrage of jokes. Robin isn’t the iconic hero Nottingham holds him as- Instead he’s a cowardly ex-tailor, who once accidently fired a lucky shot with a bow into the air. Instead, it’s the usual damsel in distress, Maid Marian, who’s really running the freedom fighting operation.
Little John gives way for the ever-aggressive Little Ron (Who is actually little), but otherwise it’s a pretty much new set of Merry Men, made up of rastafarian Barrington and dim-witted Rabies. The criticism targeting Lonergan in particular is harsh, as none of the goodies are likely to trouble the BAFTA selection panel any time soon. However, they all get the job done and live up to the stereotypes given to them, so you can’t complain too much.
The villains are slightly more interesting, with Robinson himself cast as the Sheriff of Nottingham. He’s the pick of the cast, with King John being a bit of a pain with his samey, repetitive bellowing, although the deliberately ultra-annoying Guy of Gisborne has some moments of line-improvement and good timing up his overly floppy sleeves.
The series is incredibly satirical, with anachronistic jokes littering every episode. While it’s perfectly capable of doing a standard set up/punchline structure, the series is far more fond of brick jokes (Providing a set up at the start of the program and the punchline at the end) and post-modern humour. This is all too rare in childrens comedy, which is a genre normally centred around farting and the process of deification. It’s a cliche, but it’s a ‘family’ thing. Maid Marian and Her Merry Men is a program with smart jokes, very few of which will only be ‘got’ by one subsection of the audience.
This first series isn’t quite as good as the following three, but still includes some quality episodes filled with laugh-out-loud moments. The third in particular, A Game Called John, has a terrific moneyline at the end and plenty of smaller gags throughout. The series builds to some level of finale with The Whiteish Knight- an unashamed parody of ITVs’ take on the tales, Robin of Sherwood. Parody and imitation is spread throughout the four series, and it’s not limited to other versions of the man in green. It’s well worth sticking with.
Often described as ‘Blackadder for Kids’, Maid Marian is actually less typically child-themed than the admittedly swearier ‘adult’ version. Whereas Blackadder actually slots some history lessons in amongst the jokes, this ye olde CBBC shows abandons the concept of educational value, instead focusing on pure entertaining. It’s laugh-a-minute stuff, and has most certainly stood the test of time, over 20 years on. Best thing is the boxset isn’t that expensive if you can track it down. £18 nets you all four series in their entirety on DVD. Buy it. And if you don’t have the money, steal to the rich, and give the DVD to poor, deprived you.
7 Incredible Chickens out of 10