I really loved Cleopatra 2525, a Xena: Warrior Princess–Hercules: The Legendary Journeys camp-esque TV series. It was not quite feminist (though the main characters were all women who had strong characteristics), but certainly rather entertaining given the ridiculousness of it’s premise and myriad band of over-the-top villains they had stored away. There are many familiar faces in the series, including:
- Gina Torres from Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, Firefly, The Matrix Reloaded and Revolutions, Angel, and Alias;
- Victoria Pratt from Xena; Warrior Princess, and Mutant X;
- Jennifer Sky from Xena: Warrior Princess, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Charmed.
According to the IGN review of the DVD release:
For those of you that have wondered, “If Ed Wood had made a TV show, what would it have been like?” your curiosity can now be sated. Just like the work of the beloved yet mis-guided Wood, Cleopatra 2525 is a show that will contort your face; from a look of disgust to puzzlement to, finally, amusement. This thing is so out there, so cheesy, that you can’t help but find it entertaining. The syndicated show debuted in 2000, along with Bruce Campbell’s Jack of All Trades, but only lasted for a season and a half before it was cancelled. The handful of fans out there will probably snap this boxed set up no matter what, but for everyone else out there that is considering it, you have to ask yourself one question: Do you like camp?
In the year 2001 Cleopatra (Jennifer Sky) goes in for a boob-job. She wakes up in the year 2525 to find that human-kind lives in a concrete jungle beneath the earth. She buddies up with two equally scantily-clad women, Hel (a pre-Firefly Gina Torres), and Sarge (Victoria Pratt). The three of them then spend episode after episode running around kicking ass and blowing stuff up, all the while dodging mutants and big CG robots. Yes, it really does sound like a series a pair of fourteen year-old boys would have made up after staying up all night to play Xbox and watch soft-core porn. Throw in a ridiculous theme-song, “In the yearrr 2525, they’re women with the will to surviiiive,” and you’ve got a show that, while you know it should never have been made, still somehow entertains.
I went into this thing not expecting to come out impressed. I’m not. However, I didn’t expect to find myself enjoying the show either. Yet, on the lowest level of brain function possible, I did. I’m not exactly sure what it is. Was it the fact that these women would jump down a massive elevator shaft each week to predictable adventures? Was it the campy style that makes Hercules and Xena look high-class? Was it the nearly-nude females shooting lasers from their gauntlets in slow motion? Probably all three.
The show is a collection of stand-alone episodes that are strung together with some reoccurring characters and an overused premise; cackling villains and post-apocalyptic worlds aren’t very interesting unless you can laugh at them. Luckily for us, this show lets you; even if it didn’t you would anyways. The first season consists of twenty-four half-hour episodes. The second season saw episodes bumped up to an hour, however only six were made. All of the episodes that were produced are contained on this three-disc (double-sided) set.
The best thing to compare the show to is probably Hercules or Xena as it is produced by the same people. To get a more solid grasp on what the essence of Cleopatra 2525 is, take those shows and just add more. More color, more fights, and more zooming cameras, and you’ve got a good idea of what subjecting yourself to Cleopatra 2525 is like.
I write about the show as if it’s painful to watch – in a way it is and in a way it isn’t. I mean, it’s premise does rest on sex appeal and mindless, low-budget television action. The camera is constantly panning from a forty-five degree tilt to the right to a forty-five degree tilt to the left; it’s as if the whole thing was shot on a heaving boat. The stories, when we get them, are predictable and largely pointless. And the acting? There’s so much mugging going on you feel the need to hold onto your wallet.
I’m not into camp. I don’t normally go for goofy stuff or lackluster storytelling since at the end of it all I feel as if I’ve wasted my time. However, I am not so intellectual and stuffy about my television tastes that I don’t take some enjoyment in dredging through the muck of mindless entertainment every now and then. And as far as that stuff goes, Cleopatra 2525 is near the top of the pile.
One week the girls will decide to crawl out of their post-apocalyptic tunnel world and walk around on the planet surface… only to run into a group of CG robots! Laser fire and explosions ensue. Another week the girls will jump down their endless elevator shaft, land on a new level and go exploring… only to run into a group of cyborgs! Laser fire and explosions ensue. Yet another week the girls will decide to help free some random person from the evil clutches of a mutant gang-leader, Cleopatra will distract everyone by stripping and they’ll make a run for it… only to run into mutant goons wearing hockey masks! I’m sure you can guess what will ensue.
That’s the basic formula of the show, especially during the earlier half-hour episodes, and there isn’t much deviation. When the show switched to the hour-long episodes, I’d say that it lost some of its charm. Since the writers were given more time to “develop” you end up having the mindless potency of the show spread thin and then things just get boring. It’s like spreading super-sweet Jelly on a cracker; it’s great. But spread that same Jelly on a piece of toast and it begins to taste like plastic.
Unfortunately the show was cancelled before the writers could wrap it up – or maybe they just didn’t bother to. Either way, the last episode ends on a massive cliffhanger. It exposes friends to be enemies and enemies to be… super-enemies. It certainly left me wanting to see more, if only to see what the whole crazy thing would amount to. That being said, I can’t help but shake the feeling that the writers were making up the plot as they went along. As I’ve said above, this can be a fun show, but only in small doses and if you don’t think about it too hard.
Where the fun comes in is in shutting your brain off and watching the pretty lights and exposed female flesh. You’ll chuckle at the cheesy one-liners, shrug your shoulders at the out-of-left-field plots, and gape at the goofy costumes. And at the end of it all, if you’re willing to give it a chance, you’ll have had some fun.