ICYMI: How Hooten & the Lady Channeled Indiana Jones and Romancing the Stone into a Grand TV AdventurePhoto: Courtesy of Sky Productions TV Features Hooten & the Lady
Hooten & the Lady was an action-adventure dramedy about two treasure hunters—thief Ulysses Hooten (Michael Landes) and museum curator Lady Alexandra “Alex” Lindo-Parker (Ophelia Lovibond)—who, despite their differences (and annoyances with each other), develop an unlikely, often reluctant partnership uncovering lost civilizations and artifacts in every corner of the world. Things like El Dorado, the 51st Fabergé egg, Alexander the Great’s lost tomb, Captain Morgan’s treasure—every episode found Hooten and Alex faced with the very real and very dangerous prospect of finding these supposedly mythical touchstones. Even when the characters—after the pilot, usually Alex—were skeptical, Hooten & the Lady held to the belief that these ancient myths and treasures were real. The series originally aired on the UK’s Sky One in the fall of 2016, before coming to The CW in the summer of 2017. It lasted only eight episodes, but it was fully formed from beginning to end.
While Alex’s home base was in England, each episode of Hooten & the Lady saw the duo travel to places like the Amazon, Rome, and Moscow, with each episode titled after the location of the week. Hooten & the Lady was especially notable for filming on location; even its stand-ins (Namibia for Egypt and Ethiopia; South Africa for South America and the Caribbean) clocked thousands of miles. In fact, the series shot in Moscow’s Red Square—something Mission: Impossible—Ghost Protocol couldn’t do.
The beauty and realism that came from the actors being there—instead of on a sound stage, in front of a green screen—made Hooten & the Lady eminently watchable, but the series also relied heavily on its two leads and their characters’ relationship. As Hooten, Michael Landes possessed enough charm to make you wonder how things would have been had he played Clark Kent/Superman in Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, instead of Dean Cain. (Landes was the first Jimmy Olsen.) The obvious word for Hooten is “rogue,” but he’d be even better described as “a vagabond criminal who often writes checks his charm can’t cash.” The series walked a fine line when it came to presenting Hooten’s cocky, brash American attitude and his obligatory tragic backstory—it’s a story that had already been told hundreds of times before, and will apparently be told many times to come. But Landes thrived at portraying Hooten as a guy who thought he was so much cooler than he was, without making him an idiot. Plus, he pulled off the more dramatic aspects of the character without going to the “death wish” well.
In the case of Alex, Hooten & the Lady will forever serve as a reminder that Ophelia Lovibond not being on every TV screen at all times is a crime. It would be so easy for a character like Alex to be simply the victim of Hooten’s rude, American barbs, but the series clearly enjoys crafting a balance between the two—if anyone’s “the” lead, it’s Lovibond—and makes apparent early on that Alex loves the back and forth, especially when she’s the one to get the last word in their “spats” (as she calls them) or “real/fake arguments” (as Hooten does). Despite Alex’s aristocratic background, the series portrays her as the audience’s proxy, the one who begins the series by pushing to get out from behind her desk to explore the world and get the job done. Hooten may be the “everyman” in the simplest sense, and the one with his name first in the title, but Alex is the series’ true protagonist.
During the series’ short run, it was regularly compared to the Indiana Jones franchise and Romancing the Stone, from the subject matter to the tone to the leads’ will-they/won’t-they chemistry to the (unfortunate) xenophobia of its depictions of most villains of the week. While it could be derivative, at times, Hooten & the Lady played more like a series with a smart awareness of its genre than as one big rip-off, evoking the tone of the aforementioned inspirations to tell its own story. The biggest indication of its desire to stake out its own terrain? The will-they/won’t-they plot ultimately landed on “they won’t,” with Hooten and Alex hewing instead a big brother/little sister dynamic.
In understanding why the series was so short-lived, it’s important to reiterate that the series must have been expensive to make, even at just eight episodes. The series’ future on Sky One was still up in the air when it was announced that it would air in the U.S. on The CW, and as The CW premiere drew closer, it seemed that the series’ fate depended on how well it did in America: Succeeding with the larger audience would be justification for its production budget. Sadly, though, The CW—a network that isn’t known for its stellar ratings to begin with—has historically floundered come summer, and according to CW President Mark Pedowitz, Sky One informed The CW shortly before the Summer 2017 Telvision Critics’ Association press tour that it would not be moving forward with a second season—at which point The CW had no incentive to continue on its own. (The CW has improved its summer slate since Hooten & the Lady—in October, the network renewed all of its summer programs, including two freshman scripted series—but other than unscripted shows like Whose Line Is It Anyway? and Penn & Teller: Fool Us, it’s still working on cultivating an offseason audience.)
Pedowitz noted that The CW was pleased with the series’ total viewership—averaging slightly under a million per week—but in fell short in the 18-49 demographic. The implication is that the series skewed older (a problem that might not have been solved during the regular season, either), and, by extension, that The CW was never the right tonal fit: Hooten & the Lady, beyond its film inspirations and “fun” tone, was more comparable to Castle or Whiskey Cavalier than anything that aired on its own network. Even in terms of promotion, The CW didn’t seem to get it. While Sky One’s: original promotion struck a balance between the character dynamic and amazing locations that showed exactly what kind of action-adventure series it was, The CW leaned into the wacky odd couple aspects of the show, barely acknowledging the adventure of it all. Hooten & the Lady was never as cutesy as that “She’s a lady… He’s shady… Together they’re dynamite” promo would have anyone believe.
Hooten & the Lady luckily told a complete story in its eight episodes. (In fact, a more obnoxious person might call it an “eight-hour movie”—and, given the series’ cinematic look and condensed action-adventure plotting, they’d actually have a point.) Still, it sure would have been fun to see what else Hooten & the Lady could have done, even if it had to manage with a smaller budget to do so. Instead, like the treasures Hooten and Alex sought to uncover, the series is now lost, unavailable to stream or even purchase in the U.S.—at least not without the sort of “creative” methods Hooten and Alex might’ve turned to themselves.
Despite her mother’s wishes, LaToya Ferguson is a writer living in Los Angeles. If you want to talk The WB’s image campaigns circa 1999-2003, LaToya’s your girl. Her writing has been featured in The A.V. Club, Indiewire, Entertainment Weekly, Complex, Consequence of Sound, and Flavorwire, among other publications. You can find her tweets about TV shows, movies, and music you completely forgot about @lafergs.