Xena: Season Five (November 2/04)
Though I'd never seen a single episode of Xena: Warrior Princess before sitting down to check out this package, the program quickly proves to be easy enough to get into - even for neophytes such as myself (though I did have to hit the internet to find out just why Xena and Gabrielle were crucified at the end of season four).
The show, a spin-off of Hercules: The Legendary Journies, follows Xena (played by Lucy Lawless) as she combats a variety of evil forces with Gabrielle (Renee O'Connor) by her side. While Xena doesn't place quite as much emphasis on comedy as Hercules, there are number of sillier episodes in this collection (particularly one that features Xena trapped inside the body of a little girl). But the overall vibe here is one of redemption, as Xena struggles to atone for her villainous past. There's also a real sense of grandeur here, as the season five prominentaly features Xena's pregnancy - and the mystery behind the baby's true identity (in fact, a war between the mortal and immortal worlds breaks out because of this).
The series features a number of charismatic supporting characters, particularly Ted Raimi's Joxer. Joxer is a likeable idiot who wants nothing more than to be a genuine help to Xena, but his bumbling nature usually prevents that. Given that Bruce Campbell's Autolycus is nowhere to be seen in this season, Joxer's presence is clearly designed to pick up the slack in terms of comic relief. Kevin Smith's Ares, a character who also originated on Hercules, figures priminently in season five and is seemingly a far more sinister presence than he was on Hercules.
Undoubtedly, a big part of Xena's success is the enigmatic relationship between Xena and Gabrielle. It doesn't seem to be entirely clear whether or not they're lovers or just friends, and it's that mystery that propels a large portion of the episodes forwards. It doesn't hurt that Lawless and O'Connor are both incredibly charismatic performers; as the show's hero, Lawless does a nice job of playing both sides of Xena's personality (ass-kicking versus tenderness).
Xena: Warrior Princess is one of those shows that one can just start watching without knowing too much about the backstory. If you'd like more information about the show, the official Xena webpage is a great resource.