Since we have our Tomb Raider commentary going up this week, it seems like the perfect time to go back and check out the Tomb Raider/Indiana Jones inspired Relic Hunter, starring Tia Carrere as Sydney Fox.
Episode Title: Buddha’s Bowl
Original Airdate: September 20th, 1999
Did I Know Anything Going In: I had heard about this show and probably saw bits and pieces while flipping past UPN on a weekend afternoon but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a full episode until now.
Relic Hunter seems like it’s taking elements from both Indiana Jones and Tomb Raider, which had the first four games out when Relic Hunter debuted, but funneling them through the cheesy lens of 90’s syndicated TV, like VIP, Hercules, Xena, Jack of All Trades, etc. Sydney Fox is a history professor at Trinity College who is frequently hired or asked to go and find lost treasures and artifacts. She definitely has Indy’s “It belongs in a museum” attitude, as in the first episode she is asked by some Nepalese villagers to recover the lost alms bowl of Siddhartha Gautama, which supposedly never ran out of coins for the poor, and she basically does it pro bono. Dragged along to Nepal on his first day is Nigel Bailey, Sydney’s new TA and her sidekick for the entire series. He’s basically the complete opposite of Sydney and he bumbles and complains his way throughout most of the adventure.
Most episodes of Relic Hunter, from what I read on Wikipedia, usually had a rival “hunter” who was also looking for the artifact of the week and for this first episode, it’s Stewie Harper, who would appear in two more episodes of the show. He’s pretty much an idiot jackass and it’s kind of insane that someone as competent as Sydney would have worked with him willingly in the past, which is what’s implied during the episode. I do appreciate the fact that the show does seem to have an already established history and we don’t have to waste time with introductions and explanations and within 5 minutes of the episode starting, Sydney and Nigel are already on their way to the first clue off an ancient map.
So after piecing together some clues and getting into some Indiana Jonesesque hijinks, like a marketplace foot chase. Sydney, Nigel and Stewie all make it to the location of the bowl, a giant Buddha statue in the jungle. There’s some classic traps and a fun twist on Indy’s phobia of snakes (Sydney hates roaches and there’s a giant swarm of them they have to walk through). They eventually find the bowl but the platform it’s on is rigged and the trio are stuck in a small room with sand flowing in. The solution for getting out is, honestly, kind of stupid, as Sydney applies some vague Buddhism teachings and they basically chant loud enough for the sound to reverberate off the walls and move a lever in the ceiling. It makes no sense and it’s probably the dumbest part of the episode. After they get out, it seems like the ghost of Buddha is presenting them the bowl and the Chinese businessman who hired Stewie, who followed the group for some reason, gets a lesson about facing responsibility and Sydney is given the bowl to give to the villagers.
Overall, Relic Hunter is super cheesy but fun. You got to see Tia Carrere be hot and kick ass and hunt treasures every week and it’s a much better Indiana Jones show than The Young Adventures of Indiana Jones ever was and the closest we have so far to a Tomb Raider TV show. If you were a fan of the other 90’s syndicated action/adventure shows, this is one of the better ones.