Medieval action-adventure series focuses on families of good guy Sir Thomas Gray (not the 18th-century poet) and baddie John Mullens. With lots of color, production values and a script that doesn’t take itself too seriously, “Covington Cross” mines a genre that television has ignored for several years. Once in its regular 8 p.m. Saturday timeslot, series could be a hit with the kids and an enjoyable pastime for adults, as well.
Pilot’s opening scene is a sword fight right out of Errol Flynn’s “Robin Hood ,” with a surprise payoff that, it’s hoped, sets the exciting, humorous tone for the remaining chapters in ABC’s 13-episode initial order.
Production notes set the story in the mid-1350s, showing that creator Gil Grant isn’t writing history: one of the characters is supposedly off on the Crusades, the last one of which ended in 1204.
Sir Thomas is a widower, his wife having died some years earlier in the Black Plague. His family consists of rambunctious sons Knight Richard (Jonathan Firth) , Knight William (Ben Porter) and Cedric (Glenn Quinn), and spunky daughter Eleanor (Ione Skye)–very much a 1990s woman, as it turns out.
Fourth son, Armus (Tim Killick), is scheduled to return from the Crusades in time for show’s second episode. Any resemblance to “Bonanza” is probably more than coincidental. Regulars dwelling chez Gray also include a rotund friar (Paul Brooke) and various servants. Sir Thomas’s love interest, Lady Elizabeth (Cherie Lunghi) lives in a castle just down the block.
Bad guy Mullens’ household consists for the moment only of John (James Faulkner) and his son, Henry ofGault (Greg Wise).
Pilot finds Henry and Eleanor set up for marriage at the insistence of King Edward, who’s trying to effect a truce between the warring families.
Though the Grays’ marriages have been arranged for several generations, Eleanor seems surprised at the idea and bolts for the countryside. (Jad Mager is seen as Eleanor’s romantic interest in pilot, then disappears.)
In the meantime, a group of mysteriously hooded raiders have been terrorizing the peasants, stealing their money and burning down their villages. Perhaps the youngest members of the audience will be surprised when head raider’s hood is raised, revealing his identity.
Gray doesn’t figure it out, though, so when he calls off the impending marriage, it’s out of respect for his daughter’s independence. Mullens, irked at the loss of an important dowry, demands satisfaction.
Terry makes an impressive patriarch; though as much of a goody-goody as Bobby Ewing of “Dallas,” he’d be easy to take over the long haul. Firth’s and Porter’s characters are somewhat vague in the pilot, with youngsters Quinn and Skye obviously aimed at the teen crowd.
Faulkner’s John Mullens is a real moustache-twirler, in the mold of Basil Rathbone, and sure to become an audience favorite. Henry of Gault won’t be returning to the series, which leaves plenty of room for John to recruit interesting allies from outside the family.
Director William Dear supplies plenty of action and (largely implied) violence, aided by stunt arranger Roy Alon and special effects unit headed by John Evans. All tech credits are first rate, with a special nod to costume designer Barbara Lane.