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TELEVISION : TELEVISION REVIEW

Truth, evil and the riches of syndication

First there was 'Hercules' and 'Xena.' Now 'Legend of the Seeker' pursues justice on lazy afternoons.

October 31, 2008|ROBERT LLOYD | TIMES TELEVISION CRITIC

Come with me now to a time of magic! A time when the green woods were alive with wizards and witches, and a hero and heroine rose to defend the defenseless from those who would oppress and enslave them.

I refer, of course, to the 1990s. Then it was that "Hercules: The Legendary Journeys" and "Xena: Warrior Princess" came forth from the forests of New Zealand, where even Hobbit had yet to set furry foot, to usher in a Golden Age of lazy Saturday afternoons, when syndicated adventure shows ruled the air. Yea, verily, I do.

The men who made that moment, Sam Raimi (he of the "Evil Dead" and "Spider-Man" movies) and partner Rob Tapert, are back with a new series, "Legend of the Seeker," based on Terry Goodkind's "The Sword of Truth" novels, of which millions of copies have been sold in many tongues. It premieres Saturday on KTLA at the perfect hour of 6 p.m.

The setting is vaguely medieval and vaguely English. As in most such epics, the Earth it occupies is not exactly our own; this one is divided by a kind of magical Iron Curtain into a world with magic and a world without. On one side is a bad guy who wants to rule it all and on the other a good guy who is compelled to stop him. The bad guy is Darken Rahl (Craig Parker), one of those effete, long-haired villains who, with only the slightest alteration in costume, could be mistaken for a record producer. The good guy is Richard Cypher (Craig Horner), whose happy-go-lucky life in the forest comes to an end when Kahlan Amnell (Bridget Regan) rushes by one day pursued by men in chain mail. If you think of Monty Python it is not my fault.

Richard is just the man Kahlan is looking for, the fulfillment of an ancient messianic prophecy: the Seeker of Truth. She is a Confessor -- a sort of holy witch, I gather -- and has a book for him, "The Book of Counted Shadows," which contains the "secrets of power" and was "written in a time before remembering." Darken Rahl would like to get his hands on this book, you betcha.

Presently, Richard will also be packing a Sword of Truth, courtesy the wizard Zedd (Bruce Spence).

"In anyone else's hands it is just a piece of steel," says Zedd, "but in the Seeker's hand it bestows the power to fight evil." Evil and truth and power -- this is the very stuff of an American presidential campaign.

Zedd, whom Richard had previously considered just a cracked old hermit, is the Obi-Wan Kenobi figure in this growing band of rebel fighters and, indeed, the series' two-hour opening is a bit of a goulash of "Star Wars," the Arthurian legends, "Superman" and the Bible.

I'd guess that Goodkind takes his sword and sorcery more seriously than Raimi and Tapert are constitutionally able to; his prose certainly avoids the cheekiness of "Hercules" or "Xena." But the show should offend only the purest of purists. It is, basically, good-looking fun, and if I say that much of this might have been written by a 12-year-old, you must understand that I mean that as a good thing.

Star Horner is no Kevin Sorbo, nor is Regan any Lucy Lawless. (Who, you well may ask, is?) But they have youth and charm and physical grace and handle themselves them well in a clinch. And there is Spence, who was the gyrocopter pilot in "Mad Max," to take up any slack in acting. He looks great in his Gandalf wig, rumbles his lines in a voice that at once recalls Ian McKellen, John Huston and Max Von Sydow, and seems to understand that in a show like this, any scenery left unchewed is scenery gone to waste.

He is given to aphoristic utterances, such as "Sometimes to gain ground, you need to slow down," "Never expect sense from a wizard -- especially a hungry one," or "Clear your mind of what was and will be, see only the task that is." I believe Yoda said something quite similar to Luke Skywalker in the swamps of Dagobah. It is generally good advice.

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robert.lloyd@latimes.com

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'Legend of the Seeker'

Where: KTLA

When: 6 p.m. Saturday

Rating: TV-14 (may be unsuitable for children younger than 14)

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