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Oh Sorbo, My Sorbo

Syndicated television is a cornucopia of fun. What other genre provides such a thorough survey of Vancouver or New Zealand? None. What other class of television show could turn someone named Hudson Leick into a hot tamale? None. What other milieu could produce a show about an undead Goth that drove rabid comic-book fans to call for its cancellation? Not a one. Syndicated television is a class unto itself.

And the blow-dried head of this class is Kevin Sorbo. Known to a group of ardent fans as that guy who occasionally hangs with Xena, a smaller group as Hercules, and a still smaller group as Kull the Conqueror, Sorbo is the human embodiment of a comic-book hero. Consider the chiseled jaw! Gaze on the blue eyes, unclouded by abstract thought! Note well the flowing locks -- since hacked into a haircut Dirk Benedict would remember from the 1970s -- and the superhero physique! Kevin Sorbo deserves to be barking italicized commands in all-caps on page 18 of an Image imprint, but since he's human, he has to make do with syndicated television.

And what wonderfully bad television it is. For those of you who are free of the syndicated monkey on your back, let me explain the wonder of Andromeda. Majel Barrett is still pawing through Gene Roddenberry's grocery lists and stringing together the results as shows the Great Bird created before flying off into the great beyond. One of these shows is Andromeda. The credits are straight out of Galaxy Quest: dreadfully sincere shots of assorted cast members waving firearms about or tapping on space-age powerbooks while "Kevin Sorbo as Captain Ethan Hunt" and "Laura Bertram as Trance Gemini" scrolls on by.

The fun doesn't stop at the credits. No, it continues through the ensemble cast. There's a smart-assed cyberpunk, a thickly furred alien sage, a space savant in a spandex catsuit, a philosophy-spouting badass in chain mail and the frowsy would-be captain of the Andromeda. There's also our man Sorbo as the moral and tactical captain of the craft, and a woman who plays an avatar of the sentient ship herself; the two of them enjoy the kind of relationship normally seen only in computer labs when the sysadmin hasn't been outside in a while. The folks studying pop culture at Bowling Green could wring a doctoral dissertation out of all the post-human themes in the series, especially since the chain-mail badass was weaned on Thus Spake Zarathustra.

But we're not here to write a dissertation on the pursuit of an intergalactic representative democracy as engendered by a group of humanoid freaks. We're here to talk about Sorbo's infinite capacity for playing ideologues who stepped from the pages of a Silver Age comic. Some actors inhabit their characters by adopting new accents and adjusting their body language. Sorbo shuns that extreme work ethic and sticks with what he knows: two all-purpose facial expressions.

When Captain Ethan Hunt firms his jaw and fixes his eyes on some point in the middle distance, you begin cheering for him. You miscreants he's addressing -- drop your anarchic agenda and heed his words! Bekka: get a hot-oil treatment for that mess on your head, and shape up or learn first-hand the hard caress of space's cruel vacuum! You there, you galactic wormholes! Can't you just stop giving our boy such a hard time with that whole space-time continuum thing? Whatever the dire situation, all Sorbo really has to do is clench his jaw and train his eyes on some landmark in the distance. It works wonderfully.

When the gravity of the weekly plot gets to be too much, Sorbo busts out trademark look #2: the self-deprecating smirk. It's an expression that's as ambiguous as the Mona Lisa's smile. Watch him smirk in any situation -- well, actually any situation where someone is expressing an epistemological conviction -- and you will wonder, "Is he smiling because he agrees? Because he's moved by the fervor of their nihilistic doctrine? Because he's a big fan of deontological ethics? Or because he really can't process big words?"

It could be because every once in a while Sorbo looks down at a script and thinks, "I'm supposed to be eating a kibble casserole while holding forth on the evils of a harsh penal system. Few people will pick up on the modern-day parallels, so I might as well suck it up and wait for the paycheck." You can't very well draw a paycheck while laughing hysterically over whatever the writers have cooked up for the week, so perhaps smirking is his way of letting go.

Or perhaps smirking is what he does when he's trying to convey irony. We'll never know. Our Kevin may be a man of infinite depths -- or of limited facial expressions. Take your pick. Whatever the reasons for his minimalist acting style, the net results read like X-Men -- not the flashy mess with two of London's finest actors running herd on assorted supermodels and B-listers, but the comic series in the 1980s before Wolverine discovered his affinity for Nipponese culture and Storm went off the deep end. Imagine the X-Men back in the day when they were still wearing yellow-and-black uniforms. Now imagine them standing around, listening to Professor Xavier carry on about the Badoon. And think about Kevin Sorbo, standing there between Cyclops and Nightcrawler, listening to the battle plans and smirking slightly before going out to kick some alien lizard ass.

He fits right in, doesn't he? That's our Sorbo -- a comic-book hero for the small screen. Thank you, syndicated television: our cornucopia runneth over.


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