TV Rewind: The Adventures of Young Indiana Jones Is a Holy Grail Worth Pursuing

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TV Rewind: The Adventures of Young Indiana Jones Is a Holy Grail Worth Pursuing

Editor’s Note: Welcome to our TV Rewind column! The Paste writers are diving into the streaming catalogue to discuss some of our favorite classic series as well as great shows we’re watching for the first time. Come relive your TV past with us, or discover what should be your next binge watch below:

In June of 2023, the final Indiana Jones film was released. A swan song to the character—and to Harrison Ford’s performance—the series came to an emotional end, 42 years after it began. In anticipation of the movie, Disney+ brought the previous four films to the platform along with another Indiana Jones property that has been much less-seen, at least comparably: The Adventures of Young Indiana Jones or, as they used to be known, The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles.

Just like for Star Wars, the 1990s were destined to be a dry time for the Indiana Jones franchise. Despite a satisfying ending to the trilogy (the protagonists literally riding off into the sunset), fans were still hungry for more outings with the legendary character created for the screen by George Lucas and Steven Spielberg.

When talking about Young Indiana Jones, it is important to at least briefly address how the series has changed over the years. When they first aired in the early 1990s, The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles (as they were called then), consisted of 45-minute episodes featuring a single location and date. These versions included bookends with actor George Hall playing an elderly Indiana Jones, now missing an eye and lurking in the hallways of museums in the hopes of recalling his adventures to anyone who was willing to listen (usually children). This provided the vehicle for each self-contained episode: an old man telling the exciting stories of his youth. When the series was headed to home video, Lucasfilm decided to cut these bookends and reedit the episodes into 22 feature-length episodes under the new title of The Adventures of Young Indiana Jones, which is how they now can be seen. 

In today’s terms, a prequel series always feels like nothing more than a nostalgia grab, an easy way to reel viewers in with the promise of more adventures with the heroes we love so much. However, Lucas’ goal for the series was decidedly different from that of the features or even blatant nostalgia bait. Rather than merely entertain, Lucas aimed to teach people about world history, placing the beloved character of Indiana Jones front and center. A longtime supporter of education, he viewed this venture as a tool to be utilized in classrooms to help children fall in love with history. 

With that goal in mind, these 22 episodes take Indy (played mostly by Sean Patrick Flanery, with younger and older portrayals from Corey Carrier, Hall, and even Ford himself) around the world to meet presidents, war heroes, philosophers, and academics, most of them real-life figures from the past. Keeping in line with the series at large, he also encounters supernatural figures, like the vampire Vlad the Impaler in the episode “Masks of Evil,” which feels more thematically related to Temple of Doom than, say, Last Crusade. As evidenced by that episode—where Indy discovers a group of captured soldiers turned vampires—there are historical liberties taken. But, overall, Lucas was able to accomplish the not-so-small task of creating a series that was as educational as it was entertaining. 

With the teaching of world history its primary goal, the series is not eager to replicate the feeling we get from watching Indiana Jones jump across train cars or rip swords from swordsmen with just his whip. Instead, it encourages us to engage with history in sometimes contemplative and thoughtful ways, as demonstrated in the episode “Travels with Father,” which sees Indy and his father tackle the difficult subject of philosophy.

Though the episodes are consistently rooted in history, they jump around in genre, from excursions into religion, romance, and the arts. Generally, the series doesn’t spend a significant amount of time on any one particular event or facet of history. Rather, it offers viewers a crash course in numerous subjects. In one episode, Indy may be in Chicago playing jazz with legendary musician Sidney Bechet (portrayed by now Academy Award-nominated actor Jeffrey Wright) and in the next, he’s in New York City working backstage at a Broadway musical. The longest arc, from Episode 8 to 18, covers Indy’s experiences in World War I, often with his friend Remy (Ronny Coutteure) by his side. The arc concludes with “Treasure of the Peacock’s Eye,” a classic Indy romp featuring a MacGuffin that ties into Temple of Doom

“My First Adventure,” the debut episode of the series, introduces us to nine-year old Jones (Carrier) living with his parents in Princeton, NY. This marks the first time in the franchise we are introduced to Indy’s mother, Anna (Ruth de Sosa), who had passed away before the events of the films. Indy’s professor father, Henry (Lloyd Owen), is preparing to take the family with him as he embarks on a world lecture tour that perfectly sets the stage for the sight-seeing that Indy—and the audience—will be privy to. Even at this age, the seeds of tension between Indy and his father have taken root, who would often rather read his books than engage with his son. 

In this first episode alone, Indy travels to Egypt, where he witnesses his first excavation with famed archeologist Howard Carter, planting the seeds for his life-long obsession with finding and preserving antiquities. After Lawrence of Arabia(!) shows up, Indy works with him to solve a murder mystery that took place on the grounds. Carrier portrays the character with a curiosity for the world around him that feels especially natural given what we know about him as he grows older. Owen’s Henry initially does read like a Sean Connery impression, but his performance ultimately becomes memorable and even moving at times. In “Spring Break Adventure,” Carrier is replaced as Indy by Sean Patrick Flanery for the rest of the series, who plays the character at an age closer to Phoenix. It’s in these later episodes where the series really shines, with Flanery leading the series with confidence and poise as he navigates the changing world around him.

In addition to the main performers, there is much to see in the actor department across the board. Eagle-eyed viewers will notice several character actors, some that are now Hollywood stars, before their claim to fame: Catherine Zeta-Jones is featured as a spy in “Daredevils of the Desert,” alongside Daniel Craig as a German officer. Star Wars fans will enjoy seeing Ian McDiarmid in “Demons of Deception,” an episode co-written by Carrie Fisher and co-directed by Nicolas Roeg. Harrison Ford even appears in a brief cameo as the character in “Mystery of the Blues.” Other high-profile directors of various episodes include Terry Jones (of Monty Python fame), Joe Johnston (Captain America: The First Avenger), and Mike Newell (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire).

On an educational level, teachers could do a lot worse than showing these episodes in their classrooms. For the DVD sets, released to coincide with the fourth movie, each episode had three or four corresponding documentaries which tackled the subject matter found in each episode of the series. These sprawling documentaries contain hours of information and interviews from experts in their fields that only drive home the historical content of the episodes themselves. Over the years, educators have been dedicated to compiling lesson plans and connecting the episodes to the true events depicted in the series. One such source, Indy in the Classroom, was even featured in 2023’s Disney+ documentary Timeless Heroes: Indiana Jones and Harrison Ford when discussing the impact of the series on teachers.

With this series, George Lucas’ educational holy grail came to fruition. For history buffs and Indiana Jones fans, there is much gold to mine here and, in the words of Indiana Jones himself, “it belongs in a museum.”

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Josh Sharpe is the current TV intern at Paste. His other bylines include TheaterMania and Collider. To hear about his thoughts about film, TV, and musical theatre, follow him @josh_sharpe22 on all socials.

For all the latest TV news, reviews, lists and features, follow @Paste_TV.

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