Don Quixote is one hip novel. Cervantes
forces his addled knight-errant to live up to reader expectations stemming from
the previous sections published ten years early within his own narrative. It
was meta and postmodern before meta and postmodern were cool. Nicodemus Legend is
sort of the dime novel version—and proudly so. Pulp writer Ernest Pratt
self-consciously modeled his western hero on himself, except he conspicuously
lacked the virtues embodied by “the Knight of the Prairie.” However, with a
little encouragement he starts to live up to his character’s heroic ideal in Legend: the Complete Series, now
available on DVD from Mill Creek Entertainment.
Legend was part of the
first wave of programming on the UPN network, which explains why it was so short-lived.
It had decent a decent pedigree as the co-creation of Next Generation and Deep
Space Nine producer Michael Piller, featuring the star of MacGyver. In fact, Pratt/Legend is sort
of a cowardly, dissipated analog to Richard Dean Anderson’s ever-resourceful
government agent. The only way Pratt ever carries a gun is between his thumb
Pratt would prefer to stay half-crocked in a saloon, he is forced to travel to
Sheridan, Colorado to clear his name in the two hour pilot. When he arrives, he
receives a much warmer reception than he expected. Much to his confusion, the
surrounding dirt-farmers believe he re-routed the local river, running it
through their parched land instead of that of the local cattle baroness.
Distinctly unamused, she has used her clout to trump up some rather embarrassing
charges against him.
turns out the man responsible is Janos Bartok, a Hungarian inventor inspired by
Nikolai Tesla, who headed west after winning a pyrrhic legal victory against
Edison. Reluctantly, Pratt will join forces with Bartok to protect the local
immigrant Hungarian farming community. Pratt is a rather hedonistic dandy, but
he has a heart—and Bartok has a real knack for dispensing guilt trips.
Eventually, they strike a long term bargain. Bartok will serve as Pratt’s
technical advisor, creating all sorts of steampunky gadgetry for his use, while
Pratt will stay engaged with the people of Sheridan, trying to be the
Legend-like hero they need and writing up the results in his first-person
MacGyver, each remarkably consistent
episode of Legend often ends with
some form of conflict resolution or at least a bit of trickery that prevents
bloodshed. Probably the best episodes include “Bone of Contention,” which suggests
petroleum companies are not nearly as evil as Pratt had been led to expect, “Clueless
in San Francisco,” featuring a fake séance and a brief but notable guest
appearance by the great James Hong, and fittingly the final episode, “Skeletons
in the Closet,” which starts with a weird uncredited cameo by Lara Flynn Boyle (completely
at odds with the tone of the rest of the series), but concludes with a
satisfying moment of shared comradery. Probably, the worst is “The Gospel
According to Legend,” which seeks to score cheap points against Evangelicals
and pharmaceutical companies, but at least it has Robert Englund doing his
Elmer Gantry routine.
things would have been different if Legend
had been on a different network (it certainly couldn’t have hurt). The show
is actually quite pleasant to spend time with. Anderson and John de Lancie (Q
in the Star Trek franchises) forge an
endearing bickering buddy chemistry and Ken Harrison’s catchy theme is both
nostalgic and contemporary sounding. The art-imitates-life-imitates-art
meta-ness is generally rendered with a light touch. It is often clever and
rarely forced. However, Jarrad (co-director of D Train) Paul’s shticky recurring work has not aged well, but let’s
face it, any character named “Skeeter” is probably a mistake.
With its hot air balloons and mechanical
buffalo, Legend is sort of like a Sunday
school version of The Wild, Wild West.
It means well and the directors (including Bob Balaban) keep it moving along at
a good clip. Anderson and de Lancie are just hammy enough to mesh together
nicely and the series projects a sense of optimism that compensates for its occasional
lectures regarding manifest destiny’s manifest excesses. Frankly, you have to
admire the ambition it takes to launch a retro genre-straddling western. Worth
taking a look at, all twelve episodes of Legend
are now available as a two-DVD set from Mill Creek Entertainment.
Labels: DVD, John de Lancie, TV Westerns