Before Buffy, before Veronica Mars, there was Xena. David Farrier looks back at the original bad babe. //
When Lucy Lawless’ Xena first appeared in 1995, it was as a bad dude on Hercules: The Legendary Journeys. Except she wasn’t a bad dude, she was a bad babe.
Which is sort of extraordinary, because there weren’t many ass-kicking babes on TV in the 90s, good or bad, and The Warrior Princess managed to be both. Despite initially leaning towards a life of pillaging and murder, she’d turned good by her third appearance on Hercules, teaming up with Kevin Sorbo to defeat the bad guys in ‘A Friend in Need Part 2’. And viewers loved it.
Xena: Warrior Princess was born, a spin-off show of 134 episodes that ran from 1995 to 2001. Its opening scenes were ridiculously blunt and formed a wonderful introduction to Xena’s brain: In the aftermath of one of her battles, Xena decides to throw down her weapons. She does this very literally by digging a little hole, throwing them in, and burying them with a few chunks of dirt. Approximately ten seconds after this, a bunch of rowdy men show up with some female prisoners. Xena watches, standing in the bushes. Without armour, she looks more princess than warrior, until she locks eyes on one of the captives, Gabrielle. That’s it for Xena. The warrior is back. It’s all kicks, swords, killing, and the soon-to-be-familiar battle sound of “ALALALALALA”. The men are either dead, badly stabbed, or humiliated. Cue opening titles.
The show was huge. It had Michael Hurst. It had Karl Urban. Hell, it had its own game on the PlayStation 1. And long after the show wrapped, Xena was still popping up. One minute she was in an episode of The Simpsons. The next, scientists were naming a new dwarf planet after her. When they discovered that planet had a moon, they called it Gabrielle*
Oh yes, sweet Gabrielle. Like Mulder and Scully’s implied romantic relationship on The X-Files, we all knew something was going on. The lingering looks between Xena and her hippy mate were all too clear. Page upon page of fan-fiction was written. More specifically, slash-fiction. More specifically, femslash. The big sites were Xenafiction.net and Academyofbards.org, but hundreds of others were dedicated to Xena and Gabrielle’s success, both on and off the battleground. Mainly off: “Once Xena finished suckling the bard’s adorable breasts,” writes a fan named maggielassie in ‘Closer Than Blood Bonds’, “she kissed her way down the younger woman’s tummy and started licking around the belly button, eventually dipping her tongue into the navel…”
Shows like Alias and Buffy owe a lot to Xena: Warrior Princess. The show paved the way for viewers to accept women as wonderful, strong leads. One of the co-developers of Xena ended up producing the reimagined Battlestar Galactica, and while sci-fi has typically been quite good at casting women in positions of power (Ripley in Alien, Dr. Beverly Crusher in Star Trek: The Next Generation), Battlestar Galactica was truly great. And yes: Lucy Lawless make an appearance.
The cast and crew got close on Xena, to the point where co-creator Robert Tapert ended up marrying Lucy Lawless. Executive Producer Sam Raimi cast both his mate Bruce Campbell and his brother Ted. He’d later put all those people in his Spiderman film, too. The Kiwi actors involved were all tickled pink because the pay was so good and the work so fun. There were battles, explosions and great lines: “Heathens to the left of me, infidels to the right! Tremendous. Next thing is you will be telling me you’re not virgins!”
It may be 19 years since the show’s creation, but the fans are still passionate, and fan-fic is still being penned. A great number of Xena cast members have spread their wings and appeared on screen, both here and overseas. It’s fascinating to watch the show today, simply for the faces that appear and where they’ve ended up. Both they, and viewers, should be bloody glad Xena decided to unbury her weapons and slaughter those misogynistic men.
*Controversially, dwarf planet ‘Xena’ was officially renamed ‘Eris’ on September 13, 1996. Scientists attempted to placate angry fans by pointing out the new name had its roots in mythology, too. Mike Brown, co-discoverer of Xena/Eris had this to say at the time: “She’s quite a fun goddess, really.”