Before DVDs, there was the VHS rental market, syndication, and the occasional art house or revival, but really, the industry was sitting on a whole lot of unmonetized content in their archives. Then along came the DVD: people started collecting, studio archivists got assistants, and suddenly everyone was making money (and making-of featurettes). Fifteen years on, well, you can only release Seinfeld so many times, so here we are, with the Family Channel’s thoroughly mediocre Zorro in hastily produced box set form.
You remember Zorro of course: the Batman of Spanish California, the man with no name who never rides out of town. With trusty steed Tornado, bullwhip and sword, he sows justice in the night with cunning and speed, ("Zorro" is Spanish for "fox", keep up!) and from 1990-1993, he sowed poorly choreographed justice on basic cable. Like Batman, he is a man of education and means, but unlike Bruce Wayne, Don Diego De La Vega (Duncan Regehr) lives at home with his dad, and his bat cave is in the basement. Hiding in plain sight as a cowardly nerd, he somehow escapes detection, despite having an incredibly distinctive Clark Gable mustache visible under his Zorro mask.
Zorro (also known as New World Zorro), as most Zorro stories do, takes place in the pueblo of Los Angeles in the 1810s. The Alcalde (colonial governor) of Los Angeles is corrupt to his bones, and has a variety of slightly malevolent plans, mostly involving raising taxes or arresting the beautiful inn-keeper Victoria (Patrice Martinez) in order to bait Zorro. In fact, mostly he just tries to kill Zorro. Zorro, unsurprisingly, always thwarts him. Zorro is aided by deaf-mute servant Felipe (Juan Diego Botto) (always wearing an all white suit and a waist scarf), while the Alcalde is aided by lazy, gluttonous, incompetent, racist caricature Sergeant Jamie Mendoza. Victoria is in love with Zorro, but thinks De La Vega is a putz.
All of the characters display that patronizing naivete of 90s family television: everyone is a polite follower of the rules, a petty bureaucrat in their own lives. The bad guys are immoral but can be reasoned with (at least after being out-fenced), and Zorro never has to kill anybody. It is clearly meant to be a family-action-comedy, but the action is pretty poor, and the jokes very rarely funny. Although there are occasional surprises to Zorro’s adventures, ninety percent are variations on one plotline: the Alcalde or someone else does something bad, Victoria protests, Zorro intercedes, Mendoza bumbles, and eventually the day is won. Other than the occasional two or three-episode story arc, the plot more or less resets every time, like a bad sitcom.
That said, the series improved over its run. By season three the action is markedly better, the (unbearably awful synth) music is toned down, the writing has gotten snappier, and, most importantly, Alcalde Ramone, (Michael Tylo) killed at the end of season two, is replaced by Alcalde De Soto (J.G. Hertzler), a much better actor; in fact, the best actor to grace the series. De Soto can play a villain, and his chops improve the performances of everyone around him. Plus the violence gets more intense, and the show’s turns get darker and more adult (at least for a family show.)
Still, as my dear friend Stink rather emphatically put it after watching a couple episodes with me: “Who would want this?” Other than the incredible opening, it’s not campy enough to be hilarious, nor “so bad it’s good.” It’s not even really bad (well, at least not seasons 3 and 4), just kind of average. So who is this box set for? Zorro die-hards? 90s TV fanatics? Even if you have a nostalgic attachment to this show, do you need 34 hours of it? No, no you don’t. It’s the kind of show that, if you were eleven, and it was on TV, and it was 1992, you probably wouldn’t turn off, but not the kind of show you drop one hundred of your hard-earned dollars on to watch with a glass of tequilla after work.
DVD Bonus Features
A full disc’s worth, with 1920’s The Mark of Zorro as the centerpiece. The silent classic is best remembered for being the film that made Douglas Fairbanks a star, the swashbuckling genre a Hollywood standard, and the first film ever made by United Artists. It’s not great cinema, although it has its charms, in particular its clear inspiration of the original Batman comic. It also has Chapter one of the film series Zorro’s Fighting Legion, which s a charming little bit of camp. Also some trailers, the Zorro pilot, and a photo gallery, all thoroughly whatever.
"Zorro: The Complete Series" is on sale January 25, 2011 and is not rated. Adventure, Children & Family. Directed by Donald Paonessa. Written by Michael Halperin, Adam Taylor. Starring Duncan Regehr, J G Hertzler, James Victor, Patrice Camhi Martinez.