Friday, August 31, 2012

TV Review - Jack of All Trades

Jack of All Trades
Release Date: January 17th, 2000 – December 2nd, 2000
Starring: Bruce Campbell, Angela Dotchin, Stuart Devenie, Stephen Papps and Verne Troyer
Rating: ★★★★★
To Buy

At the end of the Revolutionary War, secret agent Jack Stiles is sent by Jefferson to the island of Pulau-Pulau, a French Colonial outpost in the East Indies. There he meets his British counterpart, Emilia Rothschild. Together they must thwart Napoleon's plans for world domination, as well as the island's Govenor Croque and Captain Brogard. Assuming the identity of a local folk hero, the Daring Dragoon, in order to protect their covers, Jack is able to foil any plan the Frenchies send their way. From rescuing Benjamin Franklin to stolen American gold shipments, getting hold of the Louisiana purchase documents, having a run in with Lewis and Clark, avoiding Blackbeard and the Marquis de Sade, Pulau-Pulau seems to be the hub of the French Empire, despite being a several months sea voyage from Paris.

This short run series staring Bruce Campbell was in the same campy vein as Xena and Hercules, which makes sense because it's the same production team as well as several of the actors. Bruce portrayed Jack as part Errol Flynn, part Three Stooges. Witty, sometimes bawdy, sometimes cringeworthy ripostes and sword play where the flavor of the day. A favorite among Steampunk aficionados for the wacky gadgets that Amelia was always cobbling together in her laboratory, from submarines to love potions, as well as the alt history. Yet the show goes beyond this cult fan base, I'm not just talking Steampunk here, but also Bruce's fan base, to be a broad historical comedy where everything is fair game from Napoleon being portrayed by the diminutive Verne Troyer, to a parrot, Jean Claude, being a secret agent, to Indiana Jones parodies involving the secret tribe of the WallaWalla Bing Bangs.

While it doesn't really surprise me that the show was cancelled half way through the second season, because I'm sure the premise didn't sound that fun to people. But I dare you to put anyone down in front of the tv, even the most sceptical, ie, my Dad for example, and by the end of an episode they will be loving it, and also apologizing for doubting you if you're lucky, after a few, they'll probably be singing the theme song along with you.

What drew me to the series, aside from Bruce Campbell, really, how can anyone not love Bruce Campbell*, was the historical aspect. I have always loved the time of the French Revolution, which had strong ties with the American Revolution, seeing as the French monarchy was bankrolling it. Yet, the idea that this little island in the East Indies, which is easily a few months journey from anywhere, has people coming and going like a French Farce just tickles me. Also, the nudge nudge, wink wink mentality of Bruce and his anachronistic references along with the blatant distortion of history just makes me giggle with glee. The fact that American History was formed by Bruce Campbell... now that's a show worth watching!

*Side not, I love Bruce Campbell so much that despite having pneumonia, which actually wasn't diagnosed till two days later, I bundled myself up against a cold Wisconsin winter and trudged forth to my local art cinema. The reason? Because after months and months of harassing them, My Name is Bruce was coming to the theatre with at least three sold out performances. While a Bruce Campbell movie is all well and good, the fact that the man himself was there made it so worth it. He just has a way with his fans. You can see he respects them, but there's also a slight snark there, especially when criticizing someone for not whisking the fake blood recipe in his book enough, that makes you love him all the more. Also, the movie was quite funny, but that could be the cough medicine talking.


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