NBC is working on a Xena: Warrior Princess reboot and Executive Producer Javier Grillo-Marxuach promises that this time around, Xena and Gabrielle will be in a full-on relationship. While the initial series, aired between 1995 and 2001, had a ton of Sapphic subtext, Xena and Gabrielle’s romantic relationship was never acknowledged, which out writer Liz Friedman told us was something the network did not want to come across.
“It came up all the time,” Liz told us at TCA. “The studio was very worried about it, and I was the one saying to them ‘Guys, no one’s ever gonna think they’re gay.’ Because my now wife, then girlfriend, and I would go to the supermarket and I am a white Jew, she’s Creole and people would look at us, and it was clear that we were connected in some way, and they’d go ‘Are you two sisters?’ That fuck each other! What was bizarre to me that lesbians were so invisible in the real world, but then something just happened and I just assumed no one would ever think that about Xena and Gabrielle.”
Liz also recalled that the studio was worried about a promo shot for the show.
“There was a shot of the main title where Xena is kissing a male lover but it’s shot over his back and he had a ponytail and [the network was] like ‘It looks like she’s making out with a woman!'” Liz said. “It’s just more acceptable [today]. Most network shows have some gay characters now.”
The tension between the “best friends” led many queer women to the show, something Liz is happy about, although she’s not sure she supports their being a new version of the classic fantasy series.
“Honestly, I’m really torn about there being a Xena remake because the first show was pretty good,” Liz said. “I don’t know that it calls for a remake and yet I do think the idea of making what was subtext text is interesting and what you can add to it. But you know, I mean I think that was a pretty wonderful love story regardless of whether–and I mean my joke was always, “Look, I don’t know what the characters do between episodes. That’s their business!” But I think the biggest thing we did was show this profound personal connection between two women and we never walled it off and said ‘But they’re straight, but they’re straight, but they’re straight.’ And I do think that, in its own way, is incredibly subversive.”
The original Xena herself, Lucy Lawless, was also at TCA to talk about her role Ash vs. Evil Dead and said no one has reached out to her about the reboot.
“Listen, I don’t spend time—if somebody’s not interested in me, I don’t go begging,” Lucy said. “I’ve got other things to do!”
Lucy said she recently went back and watched some episodes of the series to prepare for an upcoming TV festival in Sicily.
“Because they’re written for the act break to go to air, they feel really turgid when you play it. And it’s such a beautiful artifact from a different day and time but you have to view it so I can understand any writer worth his salt or her salt is gonna come and make it her own, unconstrained by the past,” she said. “There’s certain rules and I love that the fans want me, and maybe if there’s an interesting way to be involved I would, but like I said, I don’t beg for anything. I have a life of my own. It was a work of art to me and I’m inside the clay. I’m not the clay; you don’t get to mold me! I’m inside the clay, coming out.”
Lucy completely supports the idea of Xena and Gabrielle being together, though, saying she finds the idea “excellent” and hopes they go even further with it.
“Now they need to make them an interracial couple,” Lucy said. “Black Xena!”
Post-Xena, Liz Friedman went on to write for House, co-writing the “Lucky Thirteen” episode with Sara Hess, and also worked on the pilot of Orange is the New Black with Jenji Kohan, bowing out shortly after it sold to Netflix. Her new ABC series, Conviction, stars Hayley Atwell in a role that Liz describes as “pro sex” and possibly open to sleeping with women.
“What’s coming for Hays is still sort of being shaped up,” Liz said of Hayley’s character. “I think there’s no boundary that she won’t cross. I’m not sure she wants to be in a relationship with anybody. … I think she’s not that comfortable with really getting close to anyone or anything, but she’s a fan of sex. Regardless of what happens with her sexually, I think Hays is kind of queer. She pushes boundaries; she defies expectations. She’s a contrarian.”
Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images
And with the amount of queerness that has been more visible on television as of late, it sounds like Liz might eventually throw her support around the Xena reboot.
“What I think is great is that we’ve actually gone past that moment in time and now we can actually have queer characters,” she said. “So yeah, I mean OK, alright, getting used to the idea that Xena and Gabrielle could evolve into something.”