Yeah. I know I said I was going to the second Undergrads disc, but the last two episodes--the so-called 'tighter continuity' ones--so pissed me off I decided to go on to the next stop on the 'Tom looks at television he vaguely remembers liking' train. Because it's so much better.
Besides, this disc ties in with the unintentional theme of this week, namely, 'Bruce Campbell Is Way Cool.'
To fill in the specifics: Bruce Campbell is Jack Styles, the post-Revolutionary War era's answer to James West. Concerned with French expansionism under Napoleon (Not to mention Jack's, ummmm, expansion into his niece) President Jefferson re-assigns Jack to Pullau Pullau, an island in the West Indies under French rule. Jack is teamed with 'mildly disgruntled' scientist (Artemis Gordon to Jack's James West) Emilia Rothschild (Angela Dotschin), and uses the local folk legend of The Daring Dragoon to aid in his campaign of desception and espionage against Pullau Pullau's governer, Croque (Stuart Devine), and Croque's right hand man, Captain Brogard (Stephen Papps).
Now let's get this out of the way right now: Jack of All Trades is a Renaissance Pictures/Tappart and Raimi series, and is done in that style--namely, that it's a mixture of broad comedy and adventure where the characters use anachronistic modern dialogue. If you're familiar with the style from Hercules and Xena, you'll know if its for you.
If you can stand that style, then there's a lot to like in here. Obviously, a lot of that lot rests on the shoulders of Campbell himself, who plays his role of Jack to the hilt. This is Bruce cranking it to eleven, reveling in his 'Ugly American' role while also presenting to us a character who is as good as people say, and isn't afraid to say so. And he does work well with Dotschin, who tends too much toward the broad, especially when she tries to express exasperation. But then, Dotschin is responsible for a lot of the steampunkish tech that surfaces throughout the series, so she can be forgiven her mugging.
Since this is the first disc of a Renaissance Pictures series, a lot of the episodes seem designed to set up satellite characters who would drift in and out of the series every once in a while. None of them really took except for Napoleon, played by Verne Troyer. It's obvious that Troyer was meant to be a joke casting, but the man does strive to give Napoleon a sinister second side to him. Some of the others--rival spies Martin and Rupert Smythe, pirate Blackbeard, and Jack's ex-partner and lover Kentucky Sue--don't aren't as effective. None of them really have the appeal that the satellite characters that were introduced during Hercules, so it's fortunate none of them seem to have returned.
However, the truly amazing thing about Jack of All Trades is that the series presents done-in-one comedy adventures that were all roughly twenty minutes long.
I'll repeat that last bit. Each episode was twenty minutes long.
Nothing, but nothing is wasted. The show runs at a quick pace which manages to break out the jokes while keeping the viewer focused on the story at hand. Granted, the stories are sometimes quite simple: Jack and Emilia have to rescue Ben Franklin from Blackbeard; Jack and Emilia have to destroy a super-cannon, etc.--but it works, and works well. And even though the series ended up not being converted to an hour-long format much like Cleopatra 2525 did, I'm sort of grateful it stayed true to its original precept. It knew what it wanted to do and stuck to its gun.
Provided you know what you're getting into, and if your tolerance for the Renaissance style and/or love of Bruce Campbell is high, you might enjoy this loads. Although it might leave you like me, wondering yet again why no one seems able to capture Campbell's unique style and charisma on television for any length of time.