Review: ‘Roar’

Filmed in Queensland, Australia, by Sea Change Prods. in association with Universal Television. Executive producers/writers, Ron Koslow, Shaun Cassidy; co-executive producer, Michael Nankin; producers, Paul Barber, Larry Barber, Howard Grigsby; co-producers, Brain Chambers, Lawrence Meyers; consulting producer, Jefery Levy; director, Ralph Hemecker; Even 1,500 years ago, it turns out that the Celtics were in need of a decent shooting guard and a big man in the middle. At least, that's what we're told in this adventure drama set in 5th century Europe that follows a ragtag band of Celtic warriors (is there another kind?) and their bloody battles with a group of nasty, oppressive Romans. Think of the Carringtons vs. the Colbys with a lot more leather ... and fewer showers.

Filmed in Queensland, Australia, by Sea Change Prods. in association with Universal Television. Executive producers/writers, Ron Koslow, Shaun Cassidy; co-executive producer, Michael Nankin; producers, Paul Barber, Larry Barber, Howard Grigsby; co-producers, Brain Chambers, Lawrence Meyers; consulting producer, Jefery Levy; director, Ralph Hemecker; Even 1,500 years ago, it turns out that the Celtics were in need of a decent shooting guard and a big man in the middle. At least, that’s what we’re told in this adventure drama set in 5th century Europe that follows a ragtag band of Celtic warriors (is there another kind?) and their bloody battles with a group of nasty, oppressive Romans. Think of the Carringtons vs. the Colbys with a lot more leather … and fewer showers.

“Roar” boasts deliciously elaborate costumes (from designer Jean Turnbull) and impeccable period detail. Yet unlike the divertingly cheesy “Xena: Warrior Princess” and “Hercules: The Legendary Journeys,” this summertime spectacle takes itself relatively seriously — a mistake when your chief female evildoer has a taste for bathing in cow dung.

This also may be the most shamelessly derivative hour in recent network history. It’s “Braveheart” meets “Star Wars” meets “Bonanza” meets “Excalibur” meets “Conan the Barbarian” meets “The Lion King.” It’s the sort of heavy-breathing, irony-drenched entertainment in which someone will ask, “How did you find me?” and the reply will be, “I smelled your fear.”

Executive producers Shaun Cassidy (“American Gothic”) and Ron Koslow (“Beauty and the Beast”) — who also combined to write the pilot — lend several curious touches to their sword-wielding creation.

For starters, our blond-tressed, pinup-worthy hero, Conor (Aussie newcomer Heath Ledger), and his improbably mustachioed, swashbuckling protector, Fergus (John Saint Ryan), mope around wearing what appear to be personal-stereo headphones around their necks.

Too, makeup artist Viv Rushbrook is given a cosmetics budget that had to be the envy of every Elizabeth Hurley wannabe in the free world. The women here, and in many cases the men as well, are caked to the gills in lipstick, blush and eyeliner, leaving us all to wonder what they used back in 400 A.D. to create this stuff.

Finally, “Roar’s” resident dispenser of profound wisdom is an odd duck with hopelessly unmanageable gray hair named Galen (Norman Kaye). He pushes self-esteem to the reluctant and brooding (yet still dreamy) Conor. It’s everything he can do to keep from saying, “May the force be with you, Luke.” Somehow, he gets results.

In the pilot, Conor — whose Irish brogue tends to come and go, rather like the wind — finds his world quickly coming apart at the seams. His entire family is slaughtered by a marauding clan led by King Gar (Leo Taylor), the 400 -year-old Longinus (Sebastian Roche) and the wicked wench Queen Diana (Lisa Zane , who comes closer than anyone else to lending this show an offbeat style).

When the girl of his dreams, Claire (Keri Russell), winds up on the wrong end of a sword, Conor goes a little nuts. Vowing retribution, he is guided into a battle for freedom by his wise New Age guru, fighting alongside the barbarian babe Catlin (Vera Farmiga) and black teenager Tully (Alonzo Greer).

Inevitably, a few contemporary touches emerge in the dialogue. Diana says of her brother, “He’s never been the smartest arrow in the quiver.” We also hear the battle cry, “We’re gonna scorch their arses!” Nothing terribly mystical about that.

The location backdrop of Queensland, Australia, is lush and evocative, and tech credits on “Roar” are all first-rate. Yet one wonders what Fox is thinking in giving the greenlight to a summer series made Down Under that glorifies the original Fighting Irish.

One guess: Rupert Murdoch must be kinda homesick.

Roar

Production

Fox, Mon. July 14, 9 p.m.

Crew

Camera, Levie Isaacks; editor, Ron Binkowski; production designer, Bernard Hides; art director, Eugene Intas; costume designer, Jean Turnbull; make up/hairstylist, Viv Rushbrook; stunt coordinator, Danny Baldwin; sound, Bob Clayton casting, Megan Branman, Maura Fay , Lynne Ruthven (Australia). 60 MIN.

With

Cast: Heath Ledger, Lisa Zane, Sebastian Roche, Vera Farmiga, John Saint Ryan , Alonzo Greer, Norman Kaye, Leo Taylor, Keri Russell.
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