This is the story of a time long ago. A time of myth and legend. When the ancient Gods were petty and cruel. And they plagued mankind with suffering. Only one man dared to challenge their power. Hercules! Hercules possessed a strength the likes of which the world had never seen, a strength surpassed only by the power of his heart. He journeyed the earth, battling the minions of his wicked stepmother Hera. The all powerful Queen of the Gods. But wherever there was evil. Wherever an innocent would suffer. There would be Hercules!
One of the most overlooked, yet one of the most influential of all 90s genre series, Hercules was pure escapism in its finest form. It started out as more of a straight forward fantasy series, but over time it began to branch out to include more surrealist and even humorous elements.
The show focused on the adventures of Hercules played by Kevin Sorbo and his sidekick Iolaus played by Michael Hurst, though there were many key changes from the myths. In the original legends Hercules was a far more morally grey character who actually did murder his wife and children (albeit after having been driven mad by Hera), whilst in this version he is straight down the middle good guy whose wife and children are killed by Hera herself in the first episode. Also in the original stories he and Iolaus were in fact lovers, whilst here they are just good friends. Finally in the original Greek myths Hercules was known as Heracles, with Hercules being the name of his Roman counterpart.
Still despite the deviations from the source material the show managed to incorporate many of the most famous legends from Greek Mythology and in the later years from various other mythologies around the world such as Norse, Persian, Celtic and even Arthurian legends.
Though Hercules was later overshadowed by its much darker spin off Xena, it still made a significant impact and also retains a loyal and devoted following to this day.
Hercules is the son of a mortal woman named Alcmene and Zeus the king of the gods. Though Hercules’s relationship with his mother is very close, his father throughout most of his life remains a distant, shadowy figure.
It is later revealed however that this is not because he doesn’t love Hercules. In fact ironically as Zeus later says to Ares, Hercules is his favourite son, or at least the child he is the most proud of, as Hercules earns the love of humanity in every way except fear, unlike the rest of the Gods. Zeus however was never able to take an active role in Hercules’ life due to his duties as the King of the Gods. Though at some point prior to the events of the first film Hercules and the Amazon Women, Hercules and his father clearly reconcile and are on positive terms with each other, though it is not to last.
Hercules is gifted with the near limitless strength of a God and uses this to battle evil around Greece alongside his childhood friend Iolaus. Hercules soon becomes Greece’s most celebrated hero. From the start however he is plagued by two Olympian Gods, Hera his step mother and Ares, the God of War, his half brother.
Hera despises Hercules because she reminds him of Zeus’s constant affairs with mortals, whilst Ares loathes Hercules not only because they are natural enemies, Ares being a war God, and Hercules being a champion of the people, but also because Ares is jealous that Hercules was always Zeus’s favourite.
Hera and Ares, Hercules’ two archenemies.
Neither Hera nor Ares can kill Hercules directly however as Zeus has a law where no God can murder another, which extends even to Demi Gods like Hercules. Thus both often have to work through their minions to harm Hercules and those closest to him, in Ares case his warlords and assassins as well as his two underlings, Strife and Discord, in Hera’s monsters such as the Hydra and the Cyclops.
At some point during his adventures Hercules falls in love with a mortal woman named Deianira and has children with her. Sadly their happiness is short lived as Hera murders them all whilst Hercules is out travelling.
Hercules blames his father Zeus for failing to protect those closest to him and severs all contact with Zeus from this point on.
Hercules and Iolaus continue to battle Hera and her minions around Greece. Not all of the Greek Gods are Hercules’s enemies. Aphroditie and her son Cupid both remain his friends. Hercules also occasionally travels with Autolycus the king of thieves and the hustler Salmoneius too, though Iolaus is by far his most frequent companion.
Along the way Hercules is able to actually help some of the enemies he faces.
Echidna the mother of all monsters was forced to give up her children to Hera who turned them into evil, destructive beasts. Hercules however is able to not only free her from Hera’s control but also reunite her with her husband, the kind, but somewhat dimwitted giant, Typhon.
Hercules is also able to redeem Nemesis the Gods assassin and later saves her son Evander from Ares. Evander is also Ares child and he intends to raise this Demi God as a weapon against Hercules and the rest of humanity, but Hercules foils his plan.
Hercules is also able to convince Xena, a cruel warlord and Ares’ favourite warrior (it is later revealed in the spin off Xena Warrior Princess that Ares is madly in love with her) to see the error of her ways and fight for good, which only deepens the feud between Hercules and his half brother.
Hercules later finds love again with the last of the Golden Hind, Serena. The Golden Hind are a race of Centaur like creatures whose blood is poison to the Gods. Naturally Zeus had their kind wiped out to prevent anyone from using their blood as a weapon against the Gods. Ares however spares the last of them in the hopes of using her against Zeus at a later point.
Hercules however ends up falling in love with her, and Ares only agrees to release Serena from his care if Hercules gives up his strength. With no other choice, Hercules agrees and he and Serena later marry after they both become human.
Unfortunately Ares later with the aid of his evil underling Strife murders Serena in her sleep and frames Hercules for it. Hercules however with help from both Zeus and Xena is able to prove his innocence and thus restore his super strength, as Ares broke his deal by murdering Serena. Sadly however Zeus is unable to bring Serena back from the dead. Hercules thanks Zeus for saving him but tells him nothing has changed between them as he still failed to help save someone he loved.
Hercules later through the use of an ancient magical device called the Chronus Stone is able to travel backwards in time and change history, freeing Serena from Ares control much earlier and thus saving her life. Sadly however this also erases all of Hercules and Serena’s time together, with Serena having no memory of Hercules at all in the revised timeline and now being married with children.
Iolaus later ends up accidentally travelling into an alternate universe when Zeus begins to mysteriously die, which creates a rip between realities. The Ialous from that universe who is a cowardly jester also ends up in our reality at the same time.
In this backwards universe, Hercules is an evil tyrant called the Sovereign, whilst Ares is the sensitive God of Love. Iolaus discovers that whenever someone dies in one world they die in the other. This is why Zeus is dying in our world as the Sovereign is poisoning Zeus with the Hinds blood in order to take his place as King of the Gods. Back in our world Hercules is able to trick Ares into creating another rip between realities. Ares had been content to let Zeus die so that he could take over.
Ioalus escapes through the new tear between universes, but the Sovereign follows him through it. After a confrontation with our Hercules, the Sovereign is left trapped along with the Hinds blood, between universes whilst Hercules, Iolaus and Ialous 2 escape into their own respective universes,with Ialous 2 having been inspired to fight against the Sovereign’s tyrannical regime back home by Hercules.
Ares later teams up with Xena’s archenemy Callisto to destroy Hercules.
Callisto was originally an innocent young girl from the village of Cirra, which Xena’s army accidentally whilst raiding it burned to the ground. Xena even in her darkest days, never resorted to murdering children, but in this instance the fire got out of control and killed most of the people in the village including Callisto’s mother, father and little sister.
This drove Callisto insane and she devoted herself to getting revenge on Xena, though she also went on to become a vicious, murdering warlord in her own right, slaughtering hundreds of innocent men, women and children. Callisto became a goddess when she consumed some Ambrosia, the food of the Gods.
Armed with her new powers and abilities, Callisto proposes a plan to Ares that will not only allow him to destroy Hercules, but eliminate the other Gods too. The two villains open the portal between universes and free the Sovereign who they allow to rampage across Greece. The real Hercules and the Sovereign soon clash and whilst they are fighting, Ares and Callisto send them both into the nothingness between universes after stealing the hinds blood from the Sovereign.
Callisto demands that Ares give her the hinds blood, but her refuses and the two clash with Ares thrashing Callisto relatively easily.
Little does Ares know however, Callisto is working alongside Hope, the daughter of Dahak, an ancient evil, stronger and more powerful than the Gods themselves. Dahak was sealed away from the rest of creation many thousands of years ago by the titans. The battle left them so weak that it allowed the Olympians to imprison them and take over.
Hope plans to release Dahak back into the world so that he can bring eternal torment to it and so she grants Callisto much greater power which allows her to turn the tables on Ares and steal the Hinds blood from him. Callisto then smears it on a dagger, creating a weapon that can kill Gods and uses it on Strife, killing him.
She then with Hope’s help travels backwards in time to erase Hercules from history by murdering his mother when she was pregnant with him, with the hinds blood dagger preventing any other Gods from following her. Still Ares sends Iolaus after her. Sadly Iolaus is unable to save Alcmene and Callisto kills her, erasing Hercules from existence.
Callisto then tries to change history by preventing her family from being killed by Xena, but in the process she ends up causing their deaths.
When Iolaus arrives in the present he finds history completely changed. Without Hercules, Xena was never redeemed and now she has conquered most of the known world along with Ares.
Iolaus manages to find another way to travel in time however thanks to the Chronus stone. This time he is able to save Alcmene and trick Callisto, setting history on the right course.
When Iolaus returns to the present he is confronted by a vengeful Callisto who tries to murder him for foiling her plans. Fortunately Hercules is able to escape from the nothingness between universes (whilst still having left the Sovereign trapped)
Hercules manages to defeat Callisto and throw her through the portal before it closes and before the Sovereign can escape, leaving them both trapped.
Hercules then disposes of the hinds blood dagger (though it resurfaces in Xena, where ironically Xena uses it to destroy Callisto after she escapes). Though Callisto has been defeated, Hercules tells Iolaus that the evil that really orchestrated this scheme, Dahak is still out there and needs to be dealt with.
After Alcemene passes away Zeus offers Hercules a chance to become a full God. Hercules is unsure as he has many enemies on Olympus such as Ares, Discord and Hera but he eventually accepts. Unfortunately Hera forces Zeus to give up his godhood by trapping Alcmene’s spirit in the underworld. She then sends Ares to kill Zeus whilst he is vulnerable which Ares happily agrees to, but Hercules manages to save his father.
Hercules later defeats Hera once and for all in a showdown on Mount Olympus where he manages to knock his step mother into Tartarus where the Titans are imprisoned. With Hera gone, Zeus’s godhood is restored and he and Hercules who returns to being half mortal, part on better terms.
Unfortunately a greater threat soon emerges in Sumeria, Dahak. Hercules is tricked into accidentally freeing the ancient God of death into our world by a king named Gilgamesh. Though Hercules, Iolaus and Iolaus’s lover a former pirate named Nebula are seemingly able to stop Dahak just before he enters our world, Gilgamesh kills Iolaus with a dagger through the heart, which he intended for Nebula.
Hercules is devastated by his friends death and so he heads for Europe. Settling in Ireland, there he battles with the evil Demigoddess named Morrigan, but eventually he is able much like with Xena to make her see the error of her ways and the two not only go on to take on other enemies such as Julius Cesaer, but also even begin a relationship.
Hercules soon discovers that Dahak was not stopped from entering our world. Dahak begins to slaughter Gods all over the world, including in Norway where he works with Loki to try and kick off Ragnarok. Though Hercules manages to foil this scheme, he is unable to prevent Dahak from exterminating many of the Druids Gods. Furthermore he discovers much to his horror that Dahak has possessed the corpse of his friend Iolaus.
Dahak plans to force Hercules to kill him whilst he is in Iolaus’s body. As Iolaus’s soul is still trapped there, Hercules will be killing an innocent man. The contradiction of a hero like Hercules killing someone innocent will finally restore Dahak to full strength and allow him to rule the world forever.
All of the Greek Gods flee Dahak in fear to the nothingness between universes, leaving Ares behind, as Ares earlier on Xena had formed a brief alliance with Dahak for his own benefit when it looked as though Dahak would win, before Xena foiled that attempt to break into our reality.
Dahak the ultimate embodiment of evil.
Dahak attempts to kill Ares in order to make himself more powerful, and Nebula and Morrgan are with regret forced to protect him, though Ares double crosses them and tries to murder Dahak himself to gain his power, he is swiftly overpowered by Dahak however who nearly kills the lesser God. Fortunately Hercules is able to extract Dahak from Iolaus and together the two of them manage to cast him back into the darkness forever, after which Iolaus’ spirit finally moves on.
Ares later attempts to take advantage of the situation, by killing all of the Gods whilst they are weak in the nothingness between universes, and rule the earth forever as its only God.
In the nothingness between universes Ares murders the Sovereign. It is revealed that if someone dies in the nothingness between universes then their counterpart will not die either, which is how Iolaus 2 who was in the nothingness between realities survived when our Iolaus died.
Hercules manages to defeat Ares once again and save all of the Gods who return home. Hercules takes Iolaus 2 back to our universe where he becomes his new sidekick. The two go on many adventures together battling enemies such as Discord. Eventually Iolaus 2 leaves Hercules when he falls in love with a beautiful Mermaid and goes to live with her under the ocean, though not before thanking Hercules first for being the best friend her ever had.
Hercules is later reunited with the real Iolaus who travels from Heaven into our reality to warn Hercules of a great danger which is revealed to be the Archangel Michael who plans to bring about the appocalypse. Hercules and Iolaus are forced to team up with Ares in order to stop Michael. During the battle Hercules sacrifices himself to save humanity and Michael impressed with his sacrifice decides to give humanity another chance and both Hercules and Iolaus are resurrected.
Later Hera is freed from Tartarus though she has no memory of who she is. Unfortunately when she does remember she turns her wrath on Zeus and Hercules, whilst Ares meanwhile frees two of the Titans. Hercules manages to defeat them, whilst Hera later is able incredibly enough able to reconcile with both Zeus and Hercules and forsakes her old feud with her step son, much to Ares’s disgust.
It is established in the modern day Hercules episodes that Hercules was rendered immortal by his God blood and lived until the 21st century where he became known as the actor Kevin Sorbo! His rivalry with Ares still continues however, with Ares in modern day among other things trying to get the tv show, Hercules the Legendary Journey’s which Hercules stars in taken off the air!
Hercules/ Kevin Sorbo
I think Kevin Sorbo is quite underrated among contemporary reviews of the show. Even though he was the star, he tended to play the straight man to the more flamboyant characters around him such as Autolaycus or Ares or Callisto. As a result of this I think people tend to overlook how he really held the whole show together and focus on the more flashy characters which is a shame.
Had Hercules been a completely over the top character like Ares or Aphrodite then I think the show could have been in danger of descending into a total parody. The fact that Hercules was always a serious character allowed it remain grounded in some kind of reality regardless of how surreal and downright silly it could get, and at the same time allowed it to do darker more serious stories too.
Kevin’s version of Hercules was much more of a straight forward hero than the original Heracles was, but I think that worked in favour of the show. This version of the character’s exploits was obviously much lighter and more of a super hero style romp as opposed to the original, darker, bleaker myths.
Sometimes the fact that Hercules was such a perfect guy could be used for comedy, such as in season 5 where we see he can play the electric guitar (about 1000 or so years before it was invented) better than Hendrix! There is also a running gag about Hercules being right about the shape of Earth too.
The fact that Hercules was meant to be so perfect could have backfired as it could have made him very annoying to the viewers. However I think Kevin was able to bring a real laid back, modesty to the role that always made him seem likable and even somewhat relatable too.
Kevin also at the same time had enough charisma to make it believable that Hercules was capable of doing all of these great, impossible things. He found the right balance of creating a hero who seemed like the most powerful person on earth, yet also in other ways, an honest,nice decent guy.
It was an all around brilliant performance and really in many ways Kevin Sorbo’s Hercules I think always stood out as being quite an unusual hero for the times as back in the 90s there were so few heroes who were genuinely good guys.
Many of the most popular heroes from round about that time like Xena and Angel tended to be more violent, tortured, anti heroes with dark pasts..Nowadays characters like that are often actually referred to as 90s anti heroes. Even if they weren’t full blown anti heroes however 90s heroes were still often flawed in some other way, or constantly doubting themselves, wanting to quite, bemoaning about not having a normal life like Buffy or the Charmed ones.
Hercules was really a throwback to a more, old fashioned, dashing, selfless, type of a hero, and in this respect he was very refreshing.
Iolaus/ Michael Hurst
A somewhat more complicated and tragic character than Hercules. Iolaus was generally a loyal friend to Hercules but a few episodes did see him suffer somewhat from being in Hercules’s shadow all the time such as the Warrior Princess when Xena very nearly turned him against Hercules.
Iolaus was someone who in any other time would be one of the most renowned heroes, but sadly because he worked alongside the son of Zeus himself then he would always be second fiddle.
Still despite this he and Hercules relationship was so close that he was always able to overcome this and be there for his friend when he needed him. Hercules and Iolaus’s friendship was definitely one of the best things about the series. It was kind of straight forward in a way, two similar guys, who loved brawling with bad guys, saving beautiful women etc, but underneath there was a real sense of brotherly love between the two characters which really shone through in the more serious moments.
I’d rank Iolaus as being one of the best sidekicks in any series. Normally the sidekick is I think the hardest character to get right. On the one hand nobody really likes a useless sidekick whose sole job is just to get captured, but at the same time, absolutely nobody likes a sidekick who completely undermines the main hero of the show and makes them look weak (I’m looking at you Clara Oswald and Wesley Crusher.)
Iolaus was the right balance of being a vital asset to Hercules, and being a strong enough character to actually carry episodes on his own when need be (such as during series 4 when Kevin Sorbo was ill) but he never completely undermined the main hero either and always remained perfectly likable.
Michael Hurst was consistently excellent in the role and indeed he was often stretched as an actor more than many other members of the cast, such as when Iolaus was possessed by the evil and twisted Dahak or when he was replaced by his cowardly and bumbling counterpart from another universe.
Ares/ Kevin Tod Smith
By far and away my favourite character in the series. Ares was the character that you always as a child hoped would show up, much like Mark Hamill’s Joker in Batman the Animated Series. With both characters you always knew that even if wasn’t that great an episode, their presence alone would elevate it.
Ares was the perfect onscreen villain. He was charismatic, sexy, at times menacing, at other times hilarious. Like all truly great villains he was someone that you never tired of seeing and also someone that you liked regardless of how bad he was.
Ares really takes over as Hercules’ archenemy from season 3 onward. It was definitely the right thing to do as though Hera was an interesting character in the myths, on Hercules she never actually appeared in person apart from in two episodes. Most of the time would just be a pair of two eyes in the sky! Ares who was played by an actual actor obviously gave Hercules a chance to play off of another character properly.
Ares was a very different character on this show than he was on the spin off Xena which he also appeared on regularly. In some ways he was a much darker character and in some ways a much more comical one on Hercules.
On the one hand on Xena he would always hold back a bit, as he was in love with her, also his desperate infatuation with her could even make him seem somewhat sympathetic too such as in Coming Home.
On Hercules however, because he had nothing but hatred for the main hero then he got a chance to be more of an out and out villain in stories such as the Hind Blood trilogy, Two Men and A Baby and Armageddon Now parts 1 and 2.
However at the same time he was also somewhat more immature on Hercules too, as a large part of his hatred for Hercules stemmed from jealousy over the fact that both Zeus and Xena, the woman he loved, preferred Hercules. At certain times Ares could feel like more of a petty character which allowed them to exploit the comedic potential of the character too.
In this respect Ares was similar to Spike from the Buffy and Angel franchise who similarly was a more conflicted, romantic character on the show starring a female hero Buffy, but was more of a petty, jealous, at times comical character on Angel the show starring a male character.
What’s interesting however is the way that Ares hatred of Hercules was actually more important to him than his love for Xena. In God Fearing Child, an episode of Xena that aired after Hercules finished, Ares basically trades Xena’s life for a chance to kill Hercules.
Zeus wants to kill Xena because her unborn baby is said to bring about the end of the Greek Gods. Hercules has sworn to protect Xena and so Zeus asks Ares to distract him whilst he deals with Xena himself.
Ares at first is appalled and even admits to Zeus that he is in love with Xena (which is the first time he ever does) but still agrees to it as long as Zeus agrees to lift the ban on killing Gods and allow him to actually murder Hercules (Ares says that they both have something to lose). Zeus with regret ultimately agrees and so therefore Ares would have seemingly been happy to lose Xena in exchange for killing Hercules!
I think in order to truly appreciate what an excellent character Ares was you have to see him in action on both Xena and Hercules (much like with Spike), but still on Hercules alone he was by far and away the most charismatic and fun of Hercules’s colourful enemies.
Aphrodite/ Alexandra Tydings
Another character who frequently crossed over between both Hercules and Xena, though unlike Ares she was pretty much the same on both series.
Initially Aphrodite began as a darker, more selfish and callous character, but they made her more humorous and lighter as time went on which was for the best. Aphrodite was essentially a modern day valley girl with super powers which lent itself to comedy much more, and Tydings was always able to make the character seem likable, regardless of how many of schemes went wrong, as she never felt mean spirited.
The episodes with Aphrodite would often provide comic relief to the show, but I don’t think they ever went too far like the awful Widow Twanky episodes. She was always a funny and charming character and the fact that she was one of the few Gods that Hercules had a positive relationship with, and above all else seemed to care for her worshippers helped to make the show seem less black and white “good humans vs bad Gods”.
Autolycus/ Bruce Campbell
One of Hercules’ most recurring characters, Autolycus much like Ares was somewhat different on Hercules than he was on Xena. On Xena he tended to be a more dashing, sexy, rogue. He risked his life to bring Xena back from the dead, and even withstood being tortured by the psychotic Velasca to protect Xena and Gabrielle. Xena also had a very positive opinion of him, viewing him as a good, brave man underneath his bravado
On Hercules however he was more of a cowardly, bumbling character, akin to Doctor Smith from Lost in Space, whilst Hercules and Iolaus generally though having some affection for him, tended to view him as more of a greedy self server.
I suppose you could rationalise it that when the heroes he was travelling with were two beautiful women like Xena and Gabrielle he acted a lot more brave to impress them, but when he was around Hercules and Iolaus he was just being himself.
Autolycus obviously did not have the same powerful dynamic with Hercules that Iolaus did, but still he and Hercules did play off of each other rather well, as Autolycus was obviously more of a reluctant do gooder and so there would generally tend to be more conflict between Autolycus and Hercules.
Autolycus much like Aphrodite was more of a comedy character. Bruce Campbell is an excellent comedy actor overall and there were elements of his most famous creation Ash in Autolycus. At one point Autolycus even sings the same “little goody two shoes” song to a double of himself that the bad Ash sings in Army of Darkness to the good version.
Overall a great character who not surprisingly played a large role on both shows.
Salmoneus/ Robert Trebor
Hercules’s second main sidekick after Iolaus in the earlier series, Salmoneus was not an out and out comedy character like say Aphrodite, but he was definitely lighter than Iolaus. Salmoneus was different to Iolaus in that he often held Hercules in more awe, though he was not above manipulating Hercules for his own purposes.
Its not hard to see why Iolaus took over from Salmoneus as he was better from a practical point of view, as Salmoneus was never really able to defend himself. However still Salmoneus was still a good foil for Hercules and Robert Trebor often played him with such gusto that it was hard not to get caught up in his often disasterous get rich quick schemes.
Discord/ Meighan Desmond
One of Hercules’s main enemies, Discord was in many ways Harlequin to Ares’s Joker in that she was his lackey who he mistreated (sometimes even with physical abuse), yet was still always desperate to impress him. However at certain times Discord would be pushed too far and even managed to turn the tables on Ares, such as when she nearly murders his infant child after he manipulates her, which is definitely one of the darkest moments in the series.
Discord however was more than just a sidekick of Ares, as she proved to be capable of carrying episodes on her own. She was less of a serious villain than Ares or Dahak or Hera, with her schemes often ending with her being humiliated in some way, such as being beaten up by Aphrodite the Goddess of love or even turned into a chicken!
Still she was a great enemy for Hercules as she helped to flesh his rogues gallery out from just being Hera and Ares, and her episodes always tended to be more zany and surreal.
Jason/ Jeffrey Thomas
The main character from Jason and the Argonauts, Hercules’s old friend and later step father, much like Hercules himself, this version of the character was presented in a lot more sympathetic way than his mythical counterpart.
Jason was not one of my favourite characters. As a supporting character he was perfectly likable and he did allow them to use elements from the Argonauts myth too. However ultimately I don’t think he was quite as funny or as dramatic as some of the other supporting characters and so whilst I didn’t dislike him or anything, sadly I felt he blended into the back ground more.
Morrigan/ Tamara Gorski
Hercules’ main love interest in season 5, in many ways Morrigan was just kind of Xena mark 2. Another evil, sexy badgirl who Hercules manages to redeem and who then goes on a quest for redemption. It seems no one can make evil babes go good like Hercules, Xena, Nemesis and Morrigan, all mass murderers who ended up becoming heroes thanks to old Herc. Though its seems Callisto was immune to his charms!
Still despite the similarities to Xena’s story line I did enjoy the Morrigan story. It allowed the show to branch out and explore other myths and legends. I also did enjoy her and Hercules’s chemistry too and had the show continued then I could have seen her becoming yet another occasional sidekick for Hercules like Salmoneus.
Tamara Gorski was excellent in the role, giving the character a real firey, uncontrollable temper, though her Irish accent wasn’t the strongest. I’d rate it above Kendra’s in Buffy’s (which isn’t saying much) but below James Marsters as Spike.
Nebula/ Gina Torres
A pirate turned princess and Iolaus’s main love interest in season 5, Nebula was a brilliant character, played by a woman who has earned a special place in many cult series fan’s hearts due to her roles in series such as Xena, Angel, Hannibal and Firefly.
This character can be seen as a precursor to her role as Zoe in Firefly. Both are hard as nails, sarcastic, self serving, criminals with a heart of gold. We also see a more vulnerable side to the both of them through not only their relationship with a much softer male character (with both Nebula and Zoe being the dominant one in their relationships too) but also in their lover’s tragic deaths too. Iolaus and Walsh are even both impaled!
Really just think of Nebula as being an ancient version of Zoe. I think its a shame that they never bothered with Nebula after the Dahak story arc, save an appearance from an evil alternate version of her, which did give Gina Torres a chance to ham it up brilliantly as the mad villain, but still I would have loved to have seen her and Iolaus reconcile after his resurrection.
It is mentioned in the modern day Hercules episodes that Iolaus lived to over 100 years old and had a family. Since its never said who he married, I’d like to think that he eventually did reunite with Nebula and they married and had kids.
Callisto/ Hudson Leick
Callisto was obviously more of a Xena character than a Hercules one. She was after all Xena’s greatest ever adversary. Still she did make a few prominent appearances on Hercules too and can be considered one of his most dangerous enemies as well.
Callisto worked quite well with Hercules because in many ways she actually had more in common with him than she did with Xena. Both Hercules and Callisto’s families were murdered in cold blood, in fact both died in the same way, being burned to death. However whilst Hercules was able to remain the same good person he had always been, Callisto let it consume her and became a worse monster than the one who took her family.
With Hercules, Callisto actually lost the moral high ground she had against Xena, as here was someone who had endured exactly the same loss, in exactly the same way that she had, yet remained a pillar of virtue.
I also felt that the manic, giggling, twisted insanity of Callisto was quite a good contrast on screen to Hercules’s honest, straight laced, and compassionate personality.
When Callisto became a Goddess I actually think she worked better on Hercules. Obviously overall Callisto works better on Xena due to her history and relationship with the Warrior Princess. However when she became a Goddess it became a little bit silly that Xena could still beat her.
On Hercules however this of course was not a problem, and she actually was still able to be a legitimate threat against him.
Callisto’s last appearance was to have been on Hercules in the episode Be Devilled which would have revealed that her sister had survived Xena burning her village, and Callisto would have partially redeemed herself by preventing her from going down the same path she did. I think this would have actually been a superior end to her character than the ending they gave her on Xena, but sadly the producers decided against it and we got the Angel Callisto story arc instead.
Xena Warrior Princess/ Lucy Lawless
Obviously one of the greatest television characters of all time. Xena was an absolute tour de force, an original, interesting character played by an absolutely sensational actress.
Whilst Xena really came into her own on her own series, its important to remember that she started on this show. The three episodes that introduce her character are among the best in the shows history, and even on these early appearance you can tell the potential she has, as she undergoes quite an interesting development across those three episodes, from a scheming femme fatale to a conflicted, remorseful warrior to a hero in her own right.
Xena would make a few guest appearances after she got her own series, and Hercules would also pop up on her show too.
Hercules and Xena had an interesting relationship. It was comparable to the much later Buffy and Angel relationship, but with the gender roles reversed. Both revolve around a hero that is a more virtuous character who redeems the darker, anti hero who then leaves to atone for their sins.
They are also, romantic connotations aside similar to Batman and Superman. Hercules obviously fulfils the Superman role, of the super powered, but more honest, straight forward, and more beloved hero who fights monsters, Gods and supernatural threats, whilst Xena fulfils the Batman role of the human, but much darker, more ruthless hero with no powers who relies on their skills and faces more twisted human adversaries such as Callisto and the Joker.
Whilst Xena was definitely too big a character to just play a supporting role on Hercules, her and Hercules were always still interesting together and it was on this show that she started.
Top 10 Episodes
10/ Yes Virginia There is a Hercules
Its odd to have a clip show as one of the top ten, but this makes the cut as its one of the more surreal, funnier episodes.
This episode is set in modern day and revolves around the crew of Hercules (who are all played by regular actors in the show such as Kevin Tod Smith, Gina Torres, Michael Hurst) trying to find a way to continue the show after Kevin Sorbo goes missing. At the end Sorbo shows up and it is revealed in a surprise twist that he is in fact the real Hercules who was off dealing with one of Ares’s evil schemes.
This is the best of all the modern day Hercules and Xena episodes in my opinion. It doesn’t tend to focus on the fans as meta episodes often do such as in Supernatural. Instead its really just an excuse for the main cast to have some fun and mess around as different, in some cases such as Michael Hurst, considerably less glamorous characters.
They all have their moments but the real stand outs are Hudson Leick, Kevin Tod Smith and Bruce Campbell. Leick and Smith play two writers who hate each other as much as Callisto and Ares do and have an over the top fight scene, whilst Campbell plays a grotesque parody of Rob Tapert, the producer of Hercules and co-creator of Xena who is despised by everyone around him, in fact some of his staff even try and kill him!
I like this episode because it also gives actors who didn’t normally have a chance to interact such as Bruce Campbell and Hudson Leick a chance to interact as well.
9/ Love on the Rocks
Probably the best comedy episode for me. This episode sees Discord in an attempt to freeze the oceans gives a beautiful Mermaid princess named Nautica legs. If Nautica is away from the ocean for too long then the oceans will freeze.
The plan goes awry when Iolaus 2 falls in love with Nautica. Whilst this is one of the sillier episodes, I always found it enjoyable. The comedic and surrealist aspects it has to be remembered where a part of what made Hercules unique.
There are so many laugh out loud moments, but what makes it really stand out is Discords main henchman Brutus who is easily the most ridiculous villain in the entire series. We’re talking about a guy who is defeated because he trips over his own shoe laces! My favourite moment is when he fails to catch Nautica and Discord scolds him for not being able to outrun a girl who has had legs for one day and Brutus tells her that she really hurt his feelings by saying that!
I also enjoyed Nautica and Ioalus 2’s relationship as it was sweet in a way, that these two characters who never really felt they belonged in the places they came from (an undersea kingdom and alternate universe) finally find each other. Whilst they are forced to part company at the end of this episode it does work out later in the series.
8/ Two Men and A Baby
A brilliant Ares episode, this is arguably Ares at his finest as we see just how low he is willing to sink, both in corrupting his own son, and in being willing to murder the mother of his child!
Discord also gets a chance to be a chance to be a much darker villain here when she nearly murders Ares infant child in cold blood. Its a great twist the way that Ares’s men are more scared of provoking Discord, showing how greatly he has underestimated her. I also love the way that at no point, even when Discord is threatening his son does Ares show any affection for him. He simply views him as a weapon throughout. Ironically Hercules shows more fatherly love for Ares’s own child.
There are also plenty of brilliant Ares and Hercules confrontations in this episode including their final fight scene. An all around great episode.
7/ Web of Desire
Nebula’s first appearance, Gina Torres makes an incredibly strong debut, establishing Nebula as someone who can give both Hercules and Iolaus a run for their money.
The monster for this episode Arachne a spider woman who slowly picks the main characters off one by one is also one of the most effective. She is both tragic yet horrifying in the way she murders the men slowly and painfully. Though the effects for her are a bit ropey, the tense atmosphere generated by the script as well as the strong performances from Gina Torres, Kevin Sorbo and Michael Hurst help to make the episode one of the darkest and most effective.
Following Iolaus’s death Hercules and Nebula venture to the underworld to try and bring him back. This episode is one of the few times where we see a darker side to Hercules as his obsession with bringing his friend back leads to many innocent people being killed.
There are many frightening moments such as when Hercules and Nebula are cornered by ravenous Zombies. It also ends on a bleak note with all of Hercules’ sacrifices having been for nothing as Iolaus remains dead (though of course he would be back later but still).
5/ Armageddon Now Parts 1 and 2
The best crossover story on either show, this episode is full of brilliant shocks and twists from Strife’s violent death, to the scene where Callisto ends up murdering her own family, to Xena in the revised timeline crucyifing Gabrielle.
By far and away my favourite moment is when Iolaus rescues Callisto as a child after her adult counterpart leaves her to die, and Iolaus tells her its okay to cry, to which the young Callisto responds that she is never going to cry! You can already see the beginning of the monster that little girl will become right there.
Any episode that features the Sovereign, Callisto and Ares is bound to be a classic. The Sovereign I feel is fleshed out a bit more here as he is more of a broken man having been trapped in the nothingness between realities for so long.
We also see how he did genuinely love his wife and children as much as our Hercules did as it was their death’s that ultimately drove him mad, and ironically it was because of our Hercules and his feud with Hera, as when they died, the Sovereign’s family died too. Ultimately however our Hercules rightly takes no responsibility for the Sovereign turning out the way he did, as they both endured the same loss, yet he never became a monster.
In this respect the Sovereign’s descent into darkness serves as quite a nice parallel to Callisto’s.
4/ A Rock and A Hard Place
A more low key episode, this story sees a man convicted of murder who denies it trapped under a boulder which is slowly killing him. Hercules tries to get him to confess throughout the episode. There are no giant monsters, larger than life supervillains like Ares or Hera, its a more personal story which helps it to stand out as being fairly unique in the series.
3/ The Gauntlet
The best of the original Warrior Princess trilogy that introduced Xena, this episode fleshes her character out a bit more and begins her long journey of redemption. Its brilliant the way Xena is set up as being a formidable foe for Hercules but ends up switching sides against a new enemy Darphus, not because he is powerful, but far more wretched than she is, with Xena enduring torture at Draphus’s hands in order to protect a baby.
Whilst all of the Warrior Princess Trilogy are excellent episodes if I had to pick one then it would be this.
2/ Once a Hero
A classic action packed story that serves a sequel to the original Golden fleece myth, there are also some excellent homages to the classic Ray Harryhausen adaptation including a Skeleton fight which is the definite highlight of the episode, and one of the highlights of the series.
The final episode of the Dahak story arc. This to me is easily the best episode of the series. My favourite moment is when we saw how Dahak manipulated Iolaus in Tartarus by assuming Hercules’s form and playing on Iolaus’s hatred for the Gods such as Hera. Kevin Sorbo is excellent in these scenes as he makes Dahak just as likable and charming as Hercules himself. In one scene he manages to make Iolaus murder an innocent man, first by giving him power to save him as he is falling from a bridge, and then revealing to him that the man will go on to murder a small family of people, including a child in a few hours time. Iolaus in order to save them, lets the man fall to his death and therefore kills an innocent man as he hadn’t done anything yet. Its a brilliant scene that really shows how Dahak is able to break Iolaus through his twisted mind games.
Hercules like many classic cult series definitely got better as it went on. Often the first series are the weakest, as the show hasn’t quite found its feet yet.
However where Hercules was different, was that I don’t think it ever trailed off. Once it found its feet I think it remained consistently strong right the way through. There were duff episodes sure such as the awful Widow Twanky episodes that begun with the dire Men in Pink, but still overall I think Hercules never really dipped in quality from its second season on. That’s not to say that its first season was bad. There are some obvious highlights such as the Warrior Princess Trilogy, but generally speaking the first series is a bit more unsure of itself.
The first 5 telemovies that predated the series (and which feature Anthony Quinn in one of his last roles as Zeus) also sadly do not hold up in my opinion. A lot of the monsters in the 5 films such as the Hydra and the Sea Serpent which swallows Hercules are admittedly better than most of the monsters in the series would be, but overall whilst the films are not without merit, they really are not up to the quality of the later series.
What made Hercules such a classic was that in many ways it had arguably the most varied format after Doctor Who itself. The surrealist fantastical setting of the show allowed it do stories that were completely ridiculous one week, and dark and frightening the next. It also allowed it to incorporate elements from so many different mythologies and legends and from history too.
The show was never really set in any one period and indeed the show became famous for its many historical inaccuracies.
How many television series can you say have had Julius Cesaer, Thor, Zeus, Vlad the Impaler, Merlin and the Archangel Michael? How many series one week can do a story about a woman driven insane by the murder of her family and then have the main protagonist get turned into a pig the next! How many feature ancient Gods, Vampires, time travel, the sinking of Atlantis, Medieval Dragons, Alternate Universes, Living Skeletons, Pirates and Mermaids?
With Hercules you never really knew what to expect from one episode to the next and that is what made it such an exciting series, again much like Doctor Who it could be anything. Whilst some may knock the camp humour of the show, that was a key part of what made the show more varied.
Though that’s not to say that there weren’t some episodes that were too silly, but overall I think the show was always able to balance out its darker and sillier moments brilliantly which is what made such a unique blend of fantasy, humour and sometimes even horror.
Legacy and Influence
Hercules the Legendary Journey’s lasted for 6 seasons, though its last season was cut short due to Kevin Sorbo pulling out at the last minute. At the height of its popularity Hercules was the most popular show in the world topping, even Baywatch.
Hercules led to two spin off series, Young Hercules which only lasted one series and Xena the Warrior Princess which lasted for 6 years and also at their height of its fame was the most popular show in the world.
Both Xena and Hercules would have a major impact on Buffy and Angel (by Joss Whedon’s own admission) and also inspire a whole wave of similar fantasy historical series such as The Adventures of Sinbad, Conan the Adventurer, The New Adventures of Robin Hood, Beast Master, Merlin, and Tarzan The Epic Adventures.
Reruns of Hercules can currently be seen on the horror channel.