“Once upon a time when things were rotten,
Not just food, but also kings were rotten…”
Young funnymen-in-training in the mid-70’s knew there were four magic words that made anything a must-see: “A Mel Brooks spoof.” After busting a gut through Young Frankenstein and Blazing Saddles in 1974, we knew that the Mel Brooks name was a mark of comic gold. Thus, it was with no small amount of expectant glee that Brooks fans tuned in for ABC’s When Things Were Rotten, a spoof of the Robin Hood legend.
In Brooks’ skewed view of English history, Prince John was still a corrupt tyrant, but Robin Hood and his band of Merry Men were no honored citizens either. Robin wasn’t so much evil as he was less-than-bright and weighed down by a tremendous ego. The Merry Men—Friar Tuck, Alan-a-Dale, Little John and Renaldo (who had a decidedly un-merry twin brother named Bertram)—were classic doofuses, though they did have the good sense to dress up as a conga band to spring Robin from jail in the series opener.
Like most Mel Brooks comedies, When Things Were Rotten was more than willing to trade historical accuracy for a good laugh. Whether it was Prince John’s plan to turn Sherwood Forest into a housing development, a nearly-forced marriage between Maid Marian and a Sheik olive oil baron, or the aforementioned conga band, the show frequently tried to work contemporary comedy into its Crusades-era setting.
Unfortunately, there weren’t enough young funnymen-in-training to keep When Things Were Rotten on the air for more than a few months. The show was a critical favorite, but low ratings meant early cancellation. Brooks fans had to be content to follow their parody guru back to the silver screen, where the writer/director/actor eventually refurbished his TV project as the 1993 feature Robin Hood: Men in Tights.
“So when other legends are forgotten,
We’ll remember back when things were rotten,
Yay for Robin Hood!”
|9/10/75 – 12/24/75 ABC|
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