Why Cancelling the Xena Reboot Was a Mistake

In my "Queer Princesses" post, I mentioned that NBC had announced a potential reboot of Xena: Warrior Princess that would explore Xena's relationship with Gabrielle. Last week, that reboot was officially cancelled. There are many reasons this was the wrong decision for the NBC executives to make. A big one is the recent rise of the warrior princess genre. With the recent releases of Wonder WomanDC Super Hero Girls, and Mysticons, there is a clear opening for a darker and more mature warrior princess series that Xena would have filled. Also, in the modern age of reboots, now would have been a perfect time to revive this piece of iconic '90s nostalgia.

The reason for cancelling the reboot was very vague. In fact, NBC President Jennifer Salke is still open to the possibility of one further in the future, claiming "Never say never." Don't forget this is the same network that failed to give The 10th Kingdom a well-deserved sequel and managed to turn the most exciting of fairy tales into a boring detective drama with Grimm, so I suppose it shouldn't be all that surprising. Still, it is certainly a disappointment that we won't see Lucy Lawkless throwing her chakram again any time soon.

When I was a kid, I remember watching Xena: Warrior Princess with great interest. It had a lot more going for it than its predecessor, Hercules: The Legendary Journeys. The stories took more risks, and the characters were more intriguing. It wasn't afraid to be silly at times, nor was it afraid to get too dark. One of my favorite episodes, "The Bitter Suite," was an operatic musical about Xena dealing with the consequences of Gabrielle giving birth a demon child who killed her son. Like I said, it took a lot of risks. Another episode I enjoyed a lot was a very silly one in which Xena learned that she was physically identical to a delicate defenseless princess who switched places with her for the princess's protection. The fact that the show was versatile enough to have such tonally opposite episodes is evidence that it would work just as well today as it did in the '90s.

Nostalgia is huge in the media right now, from the new Duck Tales series to the new Power Rangers movie to all the live-action Disney reboots. While not all of these are entirely necessarily, particularly the latter, they have proven that reboots do sell. Millenials love seeing things from their childhood brought back bigger and better than before. Many of these revived series are more fleshed out and dimensional than the ones we saw as children. Take My Little Pony, for instance. Rebooting Xena: Warrior Princess would not be an outlandish idea. The show fits perfectly in a world of Netflix, nostalgia, and modernized fairy tales with princesses who fight their own battles.

It's possible that the network felt that show would seem redundant with Wonder Woman on the rise, but those movies are going to be few and far between. Wonder Woman's success shows that there is an untapped market for people who would love to get their fix of Greek gods and goddesses every week. Xena presented a version of Ares that was more dimensional and interesting than the bland comic book villain trope in Wonder Woman. Being the god of war, he was obsessed with Xena's strength and power and crushed on her pretty hard, but that didn't necessarily make him a good guy. Aphrodite was a complex character in the series as well when she learned to befriend Gabrielle despite her self-absorbed vanity as the goddess of love and beauty. The gods and goddesses of Greek mythology have countless stories behind them. Like fairy tales, it is a genre that is constantly being rewritten with the times.

The reboot was also going to be an opportunity for Xena to come clean about her relationship with Gabrielle. Since they were both fantastic characters with strong backstories, now would have been a perfect time to make Xena our first openly gay princess. The fandom is ready and willing to accept this, quite possibly more so than they were in the '90s. Xena and Gabrielle already had a very strong relationship, having literally gone through hell and back together. Their relationship can only be made stronger by verbally acknowledging it in the reboot. Perhaps NBC thought this was too bold of a move, though they claimed otherwise in interviews about the reboot's cancellation. There's also the fact that the disappointing ending of the original series that permanently separated the two star-crossed lovers is still in dire need of a rewrite.

The biggest reason this reboot should have, could have, and would have happened, though, is the fact that magical girl shows are bigger than ever right now. There are tons of cartoons made for younger audiences about girls kicking butt, Mysticons being the most recent. So, where is our fantasy show for adults about butt-kicking women? The live-action format and darker story arcs make Xena perfect for older princess fans who feel that they've outgrown cartoons but still want powerful female characters who they can look up to in a fantasy setting. Unlike Game of Thrones, which is far too mature for all age groups to enjoy, Xena: Warrior Princess the perfect middle ground to bridge the gap between younger and older princess fans.

While we're waiting with bated breath for the upcoming Wonder Woman sequel, why can't we have our cake and eat it too? Xena was a revolutionary series for its time, and it can be once again. With modern-day visual effects, the world of the Greek mythology could be brought to life more easily than ever. Xena's already strong relationship with Gabrielle could be taken even further to break boundaries for queer couples on network television. Most importantly, Xena can to continue to redefine what it means to be a princess to older fans and skeptics alike.


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