Saturday, February 13, 2016

‘Sheena’, season 1 episode 7, “Lost Boy”, review

By the time the episode “Lost Boy” arrives, the world building of “Sheena” has been firmly established. And thanks to a team of writers and producers who took the premise and character seriously, as well as a talented cast, that world and its characters have been very well developed—especially for a syndicated genre series of the time (circa 2000).

Earlier in my series introduction/review to the series andthe initial episodes, I remarked how pleasantly surprised I was at how much I am enjoying the show. I was hoping the show would be sexy and entertaining, and it is all that. But the strong action/adventure storylines and solid characterizations have far exceeded my expectations.

It would be unfair to compare “Sheena” to the action/adventure shows of today (which boast far bigger budgets, network and studio support, and at least in the case of “The Walking Dead” and “Homeland”, the artistic freedom equivalent of an R-rated movie (NC-17 in many episodes). But when compared the other genre syndicated shows of its time (“Hercules”, “Xena”, “Andromeda”, “Highlander”, “Robocop”. Etc.), “Sheena” comes out way ahead in almost every category.

“Lost Boy” opens with an oil company trying to invade the La Mistas (Sheena’s rain forest jungle home), and build a refinery on the sacred lands of a native tribe. President N'Gama, a corrupt and greedy military dictator/president very much in line so many real life Central African leaders of the recent past, is all too happy to take the oil company’s dirty money and sell out his native people.

The twist here is the natives—who were previously known only as peace-loving pacifists—fight back. And they do so in a sophisticated and effective way. Although their weapons are primitive, their tactics are sophisticated, and as ex-military man Cutter notes, akin to something straight out of a military academy playbook.

When the conflict flares up, Cutter and his new photographer client, (played by legendary horror make-up master Tom Savini in buffed-up form!), get caught in the mayhem, and Sheena comes to the rescue. Next, the three of them find a way to get into the native tribe’s camp, to find out just who is this new leader who has militarized them. On top of that, they must figure out a way to stop the invading oil company, who now has obtained the full support of President N'Gama’s formidable military force that is ready to launch a full-scale attack.

There is a lot going on in this episode—several major well-executed action set-pieces, the introduction of two new memorable new villains, and two major plot twists. It is quite exciting, and would even make for a great episode on any genre series today. But what really makes “Lost Boy” such a standout entry, besides the strong plot, exciting action, and presence of Sheena—is the added layers of subtext.

“Lost Boy” manages to say something about the social and political climate of the time it was made in 2000, while being even more timely and relevant than ever in 2016.

By the year 2000 humans were beginning to wake up to the fact that continuing to use the planet as garbage dump while destroying what little was left of Earth’s great forests was a surefire recipe for a dark, apocalyptic future and ultimately an uninhabitable planet. Protecting what was left of nature and stopping to slaughter of depleted and endangered species was a fairly bi-partisan idea of agreement. Although the anti-reason/anti-science conservative movement was already well underway, is was primarily focused on denying evolution and promoting literal creationism. Climate change, known as global warming at the time, was broadly accepted as scientific fact, because these facts came from actual scientists who spent their entire lives studying and analyzing the data.

So in the year 2000, wanting to protect one of the last remaining vestiges of unspoiled nature (the La Vistas) against a greedy oil company run by an ego-maniacal CEO working in unison with corrupt dictator/president, is perfectly in sync with the times.

What is fascinating is how this all plays against today’s political/social backdrop in a much more controversial, and arguably even more interesting way.

Wildlife refuges are literally under armed siege by militia groups who want to “take back their country”. And pretty much every current Presidential candidate in one party wants to do away with Federal Protected land, and the vanishing wildlife and forests along with them as these “sacred lands” are opened up to the guns of trophy hunters looking for thrill kills, and yes oil companies just like the one in “Lost Boy”, looking to pillage the last vestiges of great forests left in North America.

Think about the raging debate (still ongoing) about the Keystone Pipeline. Insert a President who buckles to Big Oil (albeit through corruption, greed, or just ideology), and a native population who fights back, and you have the storyline from “Lost Boy” playing in North America.

See what I mean? This is the kind of depth and subtext you get with “Sheena”, and why it resonates so much better today than all of its syndicated genre colleagues. And in fact, is even more relevant today than ever.

Bottom line:  **** (out of four)

“Lost Boy” is a well written, exciting episode of “Sheena”, featuring great action and relevant subtext. 

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