As a teenager, I fell in love with the Highlander TV series. In fact it was my introduction to the whole Highlander franchise. (If you want my view of the rest of the franchise: Highlander was great, maybe an 8 or 9 out of 10, Highlander 2 is the worst movie that doesn’t have Shia LeBouef talking to robots, Highlander 3 is a 4/10, Endgame (producer’s cut) was a 6/10, I only saw one episode of the spinoff show The Raven and it was alright, I haven’t seen the Source, the Methos Chronicles was unbearably poorly animated, didn’t see the animated TV show or the Anime movie, nor listened to the audio plays Adrian Paul did as a sequel to the TV series, nor read any of the series’ books, but I plan to change that after I’m done this.) Since 2 of my MIB colleagues (the Man in Black and Daniel Pizarro) have both taken potshots at the movies, including the movies based on the TV show, I figured I’d re-watch the whole series and review each season as a whole to see if it stands the test of time. If you’re reading this, dear reader, then I’ve completed the whole series. This is the third “Nostalgia Critic”-esque review I’ve done, in that I’m re-watching something I found nostalgic that I’ve not seen in years just to see if it holds up. The other two (Red Sonja and the Scorpion King) did not. So, this is my review of Season 1.
This series takes place in an alternate universe from the movie series.This is something that a lot of people don’t get, and something that Christopher Lambert’s appearance as Connor MacLeod in the pilot episode (The Gathering) doesn’t help. Essentially, the first movie is canon to this show, except the Gathering is a period that Immortals are more drawn to each other and more motivated to end the Game, rather than the end of the Game. Essentially, in the movie, the Gathering was the playoffs, and in the series, the Gathering is the regular season.
But I’m getting ahead of myself, aren’t I?
For the uninitiated, Highlander is about a special group of people called Immortals. Immortals do not age, heal rapidly (though severed limbs never grow back, and neck injuries can be permanent) and, if they take damage that would kill a regular human, “die” for a short time before reviving. The only way to kill an Immortal is to sever their head. If an immortal kills another immortal, they receive “the Quickening” which is essentially a transfer of the dead Immortal’s “soul” to the one who killed him/her. This gives the victor all the power and knowledge of the loser. So, in effect, Immortals who have killed enough other Immortals are somewhat above human capability (though not necessarily superhuman). Immortals are driven to eliminate each other to gain their Quickening. This is part of the Game, which of course has its own rules that all Immortals must obey. In the end, there can be only one, and the last Immortal gets The Prize: all the knowledge and power of all Immortals ever. This contrasts the Prize of the first movie (either all knowledge of everything, even if no Immortal knew it, or the chance to die of old age) and the second (getting all knowledge and dying old, or going back to Planet Zeist…fuck that movie so hard).
Anyway, this series follows Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod (Adrian Paul), an Immortal who was mentored by Connor MacLeod (“same clan, different vintage”). He’s one of the good Immortals who doesn’t want to win the Game to rule humanity, and in fact sometimes tries to escape the Game altogether. The other two main characters in the first season are apparently quite divisive amongst fans of this series: Tessa Noël (Alexandra Vandernoot), a French woman who’s been romantically linked to Duncan for the past 12 years, and Richie Ryan (Stan Kirsch), a juvenile delinquent. Duncan and Tessa live in an apartment above their antique shop, which Richie breaks into. Duncan feels the Buzz (the feeling Immortals get when other Immortals are nearby) and mistakes Richie for an Immortal. It turns out that Connor was hunting an Immortal named Slan Quince (played by Richard Moll, aka Bull from Night Court and the DCAU’s Lex Luthor) who was hunting Duncan, which leads to a bit of a face-off in the middle of the store. Slan and Richie are both chased off, but Richie is intrigued. By the end of the episode, Duncan has decided to get “back in the Game”, Tessa has decided she won’t leave Duncan even if a million jerks like Slan threaten her, and Richie’s witnessed a Quickening. Connor leaves the series forever (until Endgame), Duncan and Tessa informally adopt Richie (who’s 17 even though he looks 26) and the status quo is established.
From there on, the first season is mostly self-contained episodes with little nods to previous continuity in the form of other recurring characters. There’s a sub plot about a serial killer who beheads people (who’s actually Duncan and other Immortals), with both the police and ace reporter Randi McFarland (Amanda Wyss) hot on the trail. However, with the exception of that, the episodes between episode 1 and episode 13 (Band of Brothers) can be viewed in any order, as can the ones between episode 13 and 22 (The Hunters). There’s a real life reason for this. See, the series was a co-production between a Canadian studio and a French studio, meaning that this is the first thing from my own country I’ve reviewed that isn’t music. Part of the agreement was that French actors play a prominent part (like Ms Vandernoot) and that half the series be set and shot in France, while the other half was shot in Canada and set in…Seacouver, Washington. The Canadians definitely got the short end of that stick. However, they did this mostly seamlessly, and the move had a good in-story justification:Tessa got a job in Paris (her old home town), Duncan has been involved in a lot of police investigations recently, thus raising suspicion, and needed to take the heat off, and Duncan’s friend Darius needed help saving an activist from an evil Immortal. Why they brought Richie along is not properly explained aside from “hey, he’s coming along.” It ends with the death of a popular character and a new mystery to solve in the next season.
This series has a lot of characters, recurring and otherwise. Aside from Duncan, my personal favourite is Randi (whose actress also appeared in Dexter, meaning she’s the only actor who’s been in more than 1 of my top 5 favourite shows), the tenacious investigative journalist with an intense need to uncover the truth in every story she covers. Sadly, she completely disappeared when the series moved to Paris and never returned when they went back to Seacouver. The other recurring character of note is Darius the 2,113 year old monk. The four recurring police officers are so interchangeable that when I saw the thinner black cop in the Seacouver episodes, I thought they replaced the fat black cop’s actor. The two black Seacouver cops (Sgt. Thomas Powell the fat and Sgt. Ray Bennett the thin) and French Inspector Raymond LeBrun all suspect Duncan of some wrongdoing, and rightfully so, but eventually see that he’s one of the good guys. Seacouver Commissioner Stanley “Stosh” Cominski is the same, except he’s the Commissioner. Aside from that, they have no defining character traits at all. Yes, there are three interesting recurring characters that appear in one episode each in Season 1, but they don’t become “recurring” until later seasons. Those three are Xavier St Cloud (played by Fine Young Cannibals singer Roland Gift) Amanda (played by former Miss America Elizabeth Gracen) and Hugh Fitzcairn (played by Roger Daltrey, lead singer of the Who).
As you can probably tell, aside from Duncan, Tessa, Richie, Randi and Darius, all the compelling characters only show up in one episode. This series has so many notable guest stars that it could probably fill an article of its own. In addition to those mentioned above, the first season featured nerd icons like Joe Pantoliano (Cypher from The Matrix and Teddy from Memento) Nigel Terry (King Arthur from Excalibur) Marc Singer (The Beastmaster) and Anthony Stewart Head (Giles from Buffy the Vampire Slayer) and a bunch of French stars you’d never recognize. This series is also known for the several musicians who guest starred, including Gift, Daltrey, Joan Jett, 3 time Grammy winning jazz singer Dee Dee Bridgewater, Martin Kemp (bassist for Spandu Ballet and actor in the British soap opera Eastenders) Vanity (a Canadian R&B singer/one hit wonder) and a French singer named Marion Cotillard in her first ever acting role (apparently she’s done other acting work since then). This of course means that one could make wild fan theory connections between this show and many sci-fi and fantasy films if one so desires (Lori Ballian grew up to be Mal, and maybe Dom kept seeing her because she was an Immortal? Gabriel Piton is a descendant of King Arthur, Caleb Cole is a descendent of Dar…or perhaps Arthur and Dar were Immortals and Duncan MacLeod actually killed King Arthur and the Beastmaster? Tommy the Pinball Wizard was one of Hugh Fitzcairn’s assumed identities, etc.)
For the most part, the guest actors do their job well. The villains are menacing when they need to be and sympathetic when they’re supposed to be. The friends of the main characters are likeable, and even when they screw up and need Duncan’s help to fix things, you want to see them succeed. The only complaint I had about the guest stars is that while some (Singer, Jett, Terry, Moll, others) were pretty decent fighters, sometimes surprisingly so, others (future moderately-successful director Peter Howitt, Stephen Macht, others) weren’t. Thankfully, the bad fighters generally made up for it by being good actors (like Howitt) and the writers wisely gave them in-story reasons for not being able to compete with Duncan.