Screen savors: Herculean efforts

Greek mythology meets 'Happy Days' at AXN's 'Young Hercules.'

With our TV schedules beginning to resemble the runway at Beirut International, it was all one could do to follow regular programming this week, which was constantly interrupted by updates or news bulletins on the situation in the North. The various reporters, anchors and behind-the-scenes technicians deserve our thanks for putting themselves on the line to bring back first-hand reports, particularly the crews on duty in Haifa Sunday morning, and in Nahariya, who literally risked their lives to report. Everyone made a sacrifice, perhaps none so great as Channel 2's tough-as-nails anchorwoman Yonit Levy, who literally threw caution to the wind and let her 'do blow in the breeze as she reported from her northern perch. Also particularly impressive - sometimes more, sometimes less - was the new technology employed by Channels 2 and 10 to bring reports from the scene via cellphone. While their images were still grainy in many places, the new toys proved important in getting first reports from scenes TV crews couldn't access. All the non-stop action left viewers literally breathless at times, and who could be blamed for seeking the occasional escape from the depressing news? Desperate times create desperate men, and that's what we became when the program we planned to review - Saturday night's Channel 2 Treasure Hunt show - was bumped off for obvious reasons. That explains how, after first watching the sad reports of the attack on Haifa Sunday morning, we looked for a quick fix to take our minds off that mess and ended up watching... AXN's Young Hercules. To the station's credit, AXN has been improving of late, even beating the other channels to the last season of Alias, and screening reruns of The Shield and Homicide: Life on the Street. But ye gods, there are some stinkers, and Young Hercules (9:40 a.m. Sundays and other times throughout the week) is a loser of Olympic proportions. It's bad enough that the creators of this turkey from the late '90s have essentially turned Greek mythology into a Happy Days clone. What's worse is that unlike, say, Xena Warrior Princess, the special effects are plumb awful. The basic premise of this silly show is that Hercules is in some kind of warrior academy with his two buddies, Ioalus (apparently Greek for "dumb butt"), and Jason - we assume the future seeker of the Golden Fleece. That basically gives the trio a chance to wander the countryside, poking each other, racing and looking for babes - pretty much your mortal adolescent behavior. Herc, as his young friends call him, has the hots for Cora, who runs a local inn. When she's forced to leave to look for an offering to the goddess Artemis, the boys take over the place. That's an invitation to mischief that Herc's half-sister Discord and her partner Strife just can't resist, and before you can say "Steve Reeves," poor Cora's inn is overrun with hungry satyrs-in-training . Too bad the folks at the academy don't teach acting, because none of the three boys can act, including Ryan Gosling - he of the dimple, coiffed blond hair and steady smile. But that's OK because this is bottom-of-the-barrel hokum, including an appearance by Artemis, a goddess that was nothing but a bogus streak of blue light, probably left over from Mutant-X or some other low-budget baloney. What really got our goat was the fact that the producers couldn't even get the satyrs right, never allowing us to see the entire half man, half goat. Instead they went cheap, either offering a shot from the ground showing its hooves, or from the top showing the human part. From what they did provide, however, apparently these beasts looked a great deal like some heavy metal band members we've spotted on MTV. Striking a note for civil rights, the impish Discord told the horny herd that the inn doesn't serve satyrs, setting off a brouhaha so badly acted that we longed for Zeus to look down from his mountain and pronounce: "E-N-O-U-G-H!!!" What's the lesson in all this? Choose your trash television carefully. We're all going to need to escape from time to time, and the airwaves are full of opportunities. Heck, we even flicked past that unbelievably ridiculous Reality Channel and watched something called Coppers for two minutes. Nonetheless, try to maintain some standards, people, and do pursue other viewing besides the news reports, if only for your emotional health. And as for you, Young Hercules, you're grounded, young man.