Relic Hunter: season one

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“Sydney Fox and the Temple of Tomb.”

relichunterMore or less shamelessly ripping off Indiana Jones and Tomb Raider in equal measures, this Canadian TV series ran for three seasons and 66 episodes between 1999 and 2002. The heroine is Sydney Fox (Carrere), a Professor of history at “Trinity University,” who is renowned for her ability to track down historical artifacts lost for centuries – and, unlike some of her colleagues in the business, return them to their rightful owners. She is assisted on the road by Nigel (Anholt), her British assistant who is smart, but far happier in a library than taking part in the globe-trotting or fist-fighting, in which Sidney revels, and back at base by Claudia (Booth), her bubble-headed secretary who got the job largely because her father is a major donor to the college.

The episodes are almost completely standard, starting with a historical prologue, to show how the relic was lost. Someone goes to Trinity to ask for help finding it. Sydney and Nigel follow a series of clues bringing them closer to the relic. There’ll be another group hunting the same object, for mercenary or other reasons, often with an unexpected agent working for them. Expect secret passages and protective traps, some fisticuffs as Fox takes out the villain’s goons, light romantic tension, a mildly life-threatening situation and a happy ending as the treasure is found and something moral is done with it. The only things that change are the McGuffin and the country involved. The latter is generally as close as the Canadian shooting location can fake it, though the end of the season did appear to fund a trip for actual shooting: five of the last six episodes had a French setting.

It’s hardly challenging stuff, and the action is generally several level sub-Buffy, in part because Carrere lacks much physical presence. The history on view is particularly woeful too, with basic factual errors surrounding just about every “real” character. All told, after the first couple of episodes, which seemed particularly stilted, I contemplated quietly forgetting the entire idea. However, I persevered, and the series did slowly grow on me. Sydney and Nigel develop a nice chemistry, and there are occasional moments which suggest a more tongue-in-cheek approach than you might expect. For instance the line delivered on their entrance into an Amsterdam bar: “Why do I suddenly feel like I’m in a Kubrick film?”. Or, as shown below, there’s the muddy catfight between Sydney and a female adversary, which is almost as self-aware as the one between Denise Richards and Aunjanue Ellis in Undercover Brother.

Make no mistake: even by the low standards of network television, this is hardly great, being incredibly derivative, and unwilling to stray anywhere outside its comfort zone. And yet… Once I came to accept these limitations, I found myself increasingly entertained by the fluffy lack of envelope-pushing. This is the televisual equivalent of putting on a beloved bath-robe: well-worn, comfortable, and you know exactly what you’re going to get. If not something you probably want to wear all the time, there are occasions when it’s just what’s needed.

Star: Tia Carrere, Christian Anholt, Lindy Booth, Tony Rosato

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