What I like most about the show, however, is Hercules himself. Aside from being a pleasant, all-around likable guy, he’s surprisingly refreshing as a protagonist in a lot of ways.
The way it approaches the character seems standard at first, to the point it was kind of laughable to me--Hercules has his family killed off in order to fuel his angst and kick off his long tale of revenge against the one responsible for their deaths. Seen it done and deconstructed endlessly, but I was ready to give this one a go because it was an earlier effort and, as I said, I’m a sucker for camp fantasy. Except Hercules’s big epic revenge quest ends prematurely and permanently in the first episode. He learns his family is living peacefully in the afterlife, realizes just how little he’d be accomplishing in carrying out a revenge that might mean something to him but would mean nothing to them, and decides to lead a fulfilling life of helping others and doing good deeds instead-- something he knows they want and would be of meaning for them.
Hercules’s good deeds aren’t something snore at, either. While fighting monsters and defending the helpless would be more than enough to carry the show, and it does indulge in it, it also adopts a mature approach to Hercules’s character, focusing on his thoughtfulness and heart over his brawn. He only engages in fights out of self-defense, and still prefers to talk things out in the end. He swallows his pride and acknowledges when he’s wrong. He’s called a softy by one of the characters, to which he shrugs and accepts. He’s shy about sex, turning down far more requests than he does accept of even the most conventionally attractive of women, and expresses that he only wants to do it with someone he truly loves. He’ll hear out a criminal’s words of sentimentality before passing judgment on them. He respects and prioritizes the agency of others in making important decisions over himself making what he thinks are those “right” decisions for them. The one time he does implicitly make a decision for someone he loves, it ends up costing them their life, and when he’s given a chance to redo it, he lets them go, even if it means them living a life happily without him.
What’s really noteworthy about Hercules’s inner morality, however, is how deep his compassion runs when he approaches grief experienced by others. He's never patronizing when talking them through it; he’s frank, yet gentle. In one instance, a boy tells him “You've been through [the loss of a loved one] before, and you know nothing you say will comfort me.” and instead of frantically coming up with empty words of comfort, Hercules instead, very matter-of-factly, says he’s right. In another instance, when with a girl who’s lost her family, she tells him "I want to believe someday that the pain will go away. But I don't" to which he gives a sobering reply of "I won't lie to you. It gets better, but it never goes away." It’s really admirable how much he cares for people, but it’s even more admirable that he cares how people feel, allows them the catharsis of airing out their feelings, and understands how important it is to experience and express even the most painful, vulnerable kinds of feelings.
I didn’t come into this show with high expectations on a writing level, and while the show itself (as of season 3 at least, which I just finished) clearly prides itself more on being an enjoyable romp than something to be felt and thought about on a deeper level, I was pleasantly surprised by how this product of the 90s, a time where things were far less self-aware of storytelling tropes than they are now, handled what could have been little more than Not Another Male Power Fantasy character.