Review of Rob Riggle: Global Investigator S01E05: "The Mysterious Disappearance of the Lost Legion"
This week, the extremely low ratings for Rob Riggle cause the Discovery Channel to push the show out of primetime into the overnight hours where it can do less harm. It almost certainly will not return next season.
It’s not entirely fair to compare a scripted drama to an equally scripted but much cheaper “reality” production, but I’ll do it anyway. After all, most of these shows are trying to be discount Indiana Jones anyway. Just look at the titles for Rob Riggle.
Even though The Outer Banks deals with some very serious issues, not always satisfactorily, it also understands the idea of entertainment and keeps the story fun. Even when it leaps to preposterous conclusions, there is a certain warmth and charm grounded in likeable actors and a sense that you want the underdogs to win something—in this case, to find a lost load of gold from a sunken ship. It is never unwatchable, even when it is not “good” in the peak-TV manner. The Outer Banks has only two characters it develops in three dimensions, John B. (Chase Stokes), the hero of the story, and his best friend J.J. (Rudy Pankow), a fast-talking, impulsive smartass. The other half-dozen or so men are assigned one personality trait apiece. Pope (Jonathan Daviss) is smart, Topper (Austin North) is a rich kid with a jealous streak, Rafe (Drew Starkey) is an even richer kid with a violent streak, etc. There are two girls and one woman with small speaking parts on the show, but like the rare women on cable TV treasure hunts, they are mostly decorative background players and don’t have much to say or do, except to pine or fight over a boy. Nevertheless, everyone has a base level of charisma that helps the viewer forgive the flaws in an otherwise fun story.
Cable TV treasure hunts don’t really put in the effort to make their characters likeable enough that I want to spend any time with them. Riggle intentionally plays his “Rob Riggle” character as an asshole, which is off-putting enough, but the people skulking about Skinwalker Ranch, probing for Civil War gold, hunting Hitler, or what-have-you always come across as wooden, abrasive, and/or obsessive. They lack, so to speak, the element of fun. Worse, because the cable TV universe is smaller than that of a Y.A. Netflix soap opera, the constant recycling of the same few people across these shows makes them feel still more generic. Their characters aren’t of a particular time and place but are just bad actors slotted into underdeveloped roles. On Rob Riggle, that’s literally the case: Twice he has used actors to portray “experts” without disclosing the fact to the audience. And they still weren’t any good!
This is a failure of TV production, not people. It should be easy to make people likeable and create emotional connections to the story. Sports does it all the time. I hate those sappy sob stories that get slotted in before a competition to help you feel for the athlete, but they are effective. Cable, though, realized that they don’t need to put in the time or the money to create something good when cheap, repetitive, and dull returns almost the same ratings with minimal investment.
If I went on longer than usual about topics other than this episode of Rob Riggle: Global Investigator, it’s because this episode’s topic is of such niche interest that I had plenty of time to think about how it could have been done better.
The story of Rome’s Legio IX Hispana is just not very interesting to me. In short, mentions of the Ninth Legion disappears from Roman inscriptions and records sometime after c. 120 CE, and it was certainly no longer in existence under Septimius Severus, when it was conspicuously not included in his list of legions. A 1954 novel popularized the idea that it disappeared in Scotland in 108, a view popular in Victorian times among British antiquarians, but inscriptions from the legion dating from after this time were found more recently in the Netherlands, so it may have been destroyed in the wars of the middle second century, either in Britain, Cappadocia, or Judaea. No evidence or records exist to document the loss, and the Romans didn’t consider it important enough to make hay out of. Its disappearance is more of an artifact of historical blindness than a nefarious mystery. Clearly, the Romans knew what happened and didn’t think enough of it to bother inserting into their histories. So, big deal. Mostly, the importance of the lost legion lies in its connection to British historians and novelists, who treat it as a romantic subject of Ye Olde Days. It’s been featured in novels, radio dramas, TV shows, movies, and even Doctor Who. Hundreds of nonfiction books and papers speculate about the legion, but since the legion is associated with no treasure, no great battle, and no enduring legacy, hunting for it is apparently primarily one of those quietly dull British antiquarian activities.
Quiet and dull are not Rob Riggle’s trademarks.
It surprises no one, I imagine, that Rob Riggle adopts the Scottish hypothesis, falsely describes the Ninth Legion as the “most formidable” fighting force in the Empire, or wobbles on his pronunciation of “Celtic,” switching between a hard-C and a soft-C like the basketball team. (The Tenth Legion is usually identified as the most fearsome, but it’s a very subjective ranking.) Riggle travels to York to visit historians who reenact the Ninth Legion. The historians falsely tell Riggle that the last reference to the Ninth legion is a tablet in York from 108 CE, which records the legion’s preparation for battle, and Riggle accepts the story wholesale, ignoring the later evidence from the Netherlands. Riggle describes the tablet as “recently deciphered,” but it was found and translated in 1864. I guess for everyone involved with this show, historiography stopped with Theodor Mommsen (1817-1903), who first proposed the 108 CE destruction date, with everything discovered after 1990 invisible.
Riggle dresses up as a Roman soldier. Bad comedy ensues.
The second segment visits Hadrian’s Wall where Riggle meets with Robert Lundgren Jones, a tour guide who dresses up as Jon Snow from Game of Thrones. Because of the lack of evidence for the Ninth Legion anywhere in Scotland, Riggle instead turns to Lundgren Jones’s stories about a ghost of a Roman solider haunting Hadrian’s Wall. Riggle investigates with a paranormal team, which is pointless for many reasons, but even if you imagine that there really is a ghost, why would a Ninth Legion ghost haunt a wall built after the legion allegedly disappeared? Hadrian’s Wall had actual soldiers who manned it for generations, so in theory, would not the Roman soldier more likely be one who really did work there? But since ghosts don’t exist, this stupid excuse to waste time descends into the kind of joking-but-not-really dancing around outright lying that cable TV is famous for. If you don’t believe it, then it was all a joke! If you do, then they were totally serious. I won’t even comment on the stupidity of using a little box with tiny light bulbs to try to “talk” to a ghost named Lucius.
The third segment continues the ghost hunt, to no effect. Then Riggle visits the ruins of a Roman fort, Vindolanda. An archaeologist shows Riggle human skulls found at the site. The fort had some sort of unexplained event that left evidence of a sudden abandonment around 117 CE, and Riggle falsely describes archaeological evidence as “fossils.” None of this had anything to do with the Ninth Legion, so it was a mildly interesting but irrelevant side trip.
After this, Riggle investigates a legend that Queen Boudica cursed the Ninth Legion on her death bed. That’s cute and all, but this allegedly occurred during the Battle of Camulodunum in 61 CE, when the Celts took out a large part of the Ninth Legion. It happened more than four decades too early by Riggle’s count, and six decades too early by modern historians’ reckoning to have anything to do with the disappearance of the legion.
The fourth segment has Riggle looking for evidence that the Ninth Legion performed “strange rituals” to ward off Boudica’s curse. He meets with the archaeologist who excavated Fort Inveresk in Scotland, where six male bodies dating from somewhere between 20 and 220 CE were buried with their heads cut off post mortem and placed between their knees. A horse was buried beside them. The ritual represented here is unknown, so Riggle simply assumes it’s connected to Boudica’s curse. For no particular reason given to us, Riggle asserts that he has concluded that the entire Ninth Legion had been ambushed on the way to Fort Inveresk, in a boggy forest. He therefore begins metal detecting in the bogs. Why assume this? Who knows? The “bogs” are so small that each could barely hold one soldier, and there is no evidence given they were the same boggy wetland two thousand years ago. Riggle says that it’s a great place to “ambush your enemy,” but there is no evidence to support his hypothesis. Instead, it seems to have been chosen simply to fill time.
An interstitial comedy bit during the commercial has Riggle making jokes to a ghost who doesn’t respond. I didn’t laugh either, so it’s a wash.
The fifth segment finds Riggle still in the bog, and then he freaks out because a fox walks by. Like the rest of the show’s audience, the fox turns around and leaves. He finds a tiny piece of metal. As the show ends, Christopher Muscato, an adjunct professor at the University of Norther Colorado specializing in Mexican and American nineteenth and twentieth century history tells Riggle that the metal fragment could have been a Roman javelin tip. But even Riggle admitted this time that Muscato could not confirm Riggle’s allegation that it was a piece of the Ninth Legion from the specific year he imagined it disappeared.
So… Ghosts, ignorance of actual current historical evidence, and pointless side quests. Sadly, even with all that, this was still the strongest episode of Rob Riggle: Global Investigator purely from the point of view of facts, evidence, and conclusions.
At the end of the day, both Rob Riggle: Global Investigator and The Outer Banks ask us to find entertainment and enjoyment in a Boy’s Own-style quest for historical mysteries, and I’m glad that Riggle went in search of a Roman mystery this week. That lets me make the point that the Greeks and the Romans imagined the absolute bliss of the Golden Age, paradise on Earth, as a whole world populated entirely by eternally adolescent teen boys. Hesiod tells us so in Works and Days (69-120), where the Golden Age occurs before the creation of the first woman, when all men lived in bliss, were eternally young, and spent their days in fun and adventure.*
These two shows offer two very different attempts create a television version of the Greco-Roman paradise. Riggle, like Tithonus, is the eternal frat boy, without the eternal youth, in a show that views the excitement of adventure as an egomaniacal solo pursuit for personal glory. The Outer Banks revels in the joy of eternal youth and sees adventure as a team sport, where building bonds and social ties is more important than the treasure or the glory. I can’t speak to what kind of paradise the Greco-Roman Golden Age would really have been had it existed, but if you had to pick a TV show to better represent the Classical ideal, I know which I prefer.
* Hesiod married two incompatible and probably independent stories without really considering the consequences. Take the result with a small grain of salt.
4/17/2020 12:10:42 pm
I wonder if they have ever done any "minority friendly" fringe programming. Get a washed up or so-so talent like MC Hammer and dress him in exaggerated African Safari gear and have him traipse the world investigating mysteries that ceased to be mysteries 40 years ago. Or keep it real and have him all blinged out with some hip hop blazing in the background as he stands at the base of the Sphinx delivering lines such as "this MF'er looks 10,000 years old to me. Should be good for a million viewers a week in that 18-49 demographic.
An Anonymous Nerd
4/17/2020 04:13:43 pm
Based on Mr. Colavito's description of this show, Kanye West would be perfect for a similar show, except he'd take it super-serious. Which would make it even worse? (At least I think so?)
4/17/2020 05:05:48 pm
A few years ago, there was a forgettable show called “Ghost Brothers” (with the word “brothers” in the title referring to the three ghost hunters’ race and not their familial relationship). It was described as “a fresh -- and often funny -- take on supernatural spookiness” with the three “brothers” visiting various supposedly haunted locations and engaging in stereotypical African-American humor.
4/17/2020 05:06:08 pm
4/18/2020 10:02:31 am
What an incredibly ignorant and racist thing to say Doc. Congrats. You assume minorities don't watch fringe programming and somehow must have missed the Vice network's bong show screenings of Ancient Aliens. Then you envision a minstrel show. Way to show your true colors once again Doc... or better put, color.
4/18/2020 12:00:42 pm
Minorities watched Leave it to Beaver and the Andy Griffith show, but then along came material like Good Times anyway.
4/19/2020 09:36:22 am
Not outraged at all Doc, that your racism would show in these times when folks are hunkered down and perhaps imbibing a bit too much. Not surprised either that you'd get a pass by those actually doubling down on it without realizing their own inner racism. And childish replies on your part do nothing to excuse it Doc.
4/19/2020 12:22:56 pm
Yep, it's a fake Joe. Real Joe is slow on the draw but even he would have grasped my point, at least after my second comment. Da Management obviously understood the point and spirit of my comments or they would not have ended up here for all to see.
4/20/2020 11:14:36 am
"Da Management obviously understood the point and spirit of my comments or they would not have ended up here for all to see."
4/20/2020 04:59:10 pm
Joe Scales: " You assume minorities don't watch fringe programming"
4/20/2020 08:52:05 pm
Joe, Joe, Joe,
4/21/2020 11:26:29 am
Red herrings Doc. They don't excuse your insensitivity above. It has to be embarrassing for you. And yeah, you're just a tad bit right of center. Just a tad, despite your deflection.
4/21/2020 08:49:13 pm
Dangnabbit! I made reference to a minority cast in a non-typical role to try to distract attention from my original post that referenced casting minorities in non-typical roles. And I would have gotten away with it too, if it wasn't for that Scaley Doo and that meddling kiddie table calling red herring on me.
4/21/2020 10:56:54 pm
It's terribly racist Doc, suggesting that a man of color would get higher viewership than a white person in a similar role.
4/22/2020 09:21:56 am
Well, you're in good company here at least Doc. Think on that while hunkering down... alone.
4/24/2020 02:14:42 pm
I do not think that racism and red herring mean what Joe Scales thinks that they mean. You are lucky that Mr. Colavito is now running a much tighter ship or Joe would have been dropping F-bombs and posting 300 word essays over and over by now after quickly getting in over his head.
4/28/2020 11:03:16 am
Remember Captain, that others here are actually educated and understand the clear impact of my words. That's what gets you riled. That's what has you peppering my posts and begging to engage me here and elsewhere.
4/29/2020 01:49:40 pm
Your comments sound like what Napoleon Dynamite's brother would post. You tried to nitpick another fight with someone here and it didn't work out. This is not something new and you have tried it with nearly every regular here. Be a man and accept that you don't understand the topic or concepts that your were trying to beat people over the head with here. Move on with your life or seek out easier prey. If you lurk around here enough maybe you will find a minor spelling or grammatical error to criticize to make yourself feel big. Seeking out a significant other or a hobby appropriate to your skillset could turn out to be very rewarding to you and create less of a nuisance to everyone here.
4/30/2020 02:03:32 pm
No, it worked out fine "Pedro". Doc said something stupid and I called him out for it. You only don't recognize it because you're caught up in personalities. And it goes without saying, that you're the pest on this board with only ad hominem in your arsenal. You also lack the courage to post with only one moniker and create a record here; again, because you're a pest. Not funny. Not entertaining.
4/30/2020 08:12:05 pm
A show of hands of people who agree with Joe. Has anyone said anything stupid here apart from him. Can anyone point out a situation in the recent past when Joe claimed that someone said something stupid and anyone else joined in and said, yes that was stupid? Anyone? Ferris? Anyone?
5/1/2020 12:43:30 pm
First ad hominem, now argumentum ad populum. I can see why you have to change your name with each new post. Your only distinction is a penchant for fallacy.
5/1/2020 02:04:23 pm
Joe was one of the people mentioned by name as a problem when there was a big discussion about Mr. Colavito's decision to begin to moderate the discussion. If everything that he writes gets posted now it is because he knows he can't get away with as much as he used to do and is behaving himself as best he can. Its irony to see him complain about other people.
5/2/2020 10:21:42 am
Yes, I am mentioned by you, in nearly every thread on this site, using a different moniker, whether or not I actually post within the comments. I'll be fine abiding by the new rules because I know you're not actually educated and you're incapable of making cogent or sound arguments. I engage you simply to rub your nose in your own failings. Is it productive? I don't know, but so far Jason is allowing it.
5/5/2020 07:12:37 pm
It's like elsewhere on the internet. Joe makes a fool out of himself and then when he gets called out on it by multiple people he claims one person is doing it J. Colavito must be part of that conspiracy of one since he has called out Joe too before. On a regular basis in fact. Is J. Colavito one of many dimensions of your stalker?
5/7/2020 09:45:44 am
Starts off with an argument that is textbook Hitchens Razor and then goes downhill from there. Ends up abandoning all pretense of an actual fact and logic based debate and just hangs around playing the "get the last word" game. Yep it is indeed Joe. I was wrong to assume otherwise, mea culpa.
4/17/2020 04:53:35 pm
In the bilingual Loeb edition online the Greek text tells of “human beings”, not males.
4/17/2020 06:09:06 pm
You are reading the words but not the story. The Golden Age happened when Kronos was the ruler, but the traditional first woman, Pandora, wasn't created until Zeus was king. Ergo, the were no women in the Golden Age. This admitted odd conclusion is almost certainly the result of Hesiod telling two contradictory creation stories without thinking it through, since traditions often vary wildly. But it did provide plenty of fodder for jokes when I was studying Latin and Greek in school.
4/17/2020 09:28:50 pm
I read the passages you cited (69-120]. Next time give the readers the correct citation. And it is not clear that Pandora was the first woman.
4/17/2020 10:22:41 pm
She is named as the first woman in Hesiod's Theogony 560–612.
4/17/2020 11:24:30 pm
Really? No Pandora in 560-612. Why this strange way, references with many verses, why not just the exact verse?
4/18/2020 12:05:35 pm
Considering the highly successful tv hunts for bigfoot, ghosts, mountain monsters, ufos etc all of which brought in their prey...
4/19/2020 02:17:26 pm
I agree at least the subject was interesting, and they at least did some homework on the lore surrounding the mystery, even if they took off on weird tangents. My own take was the Legion was simply broken up to cover the increasingly porous boundaries of the Empire and never had a climactic set battle of note. Sound familiar? How often have you heard any news of our divisions in the Middle East? And our permanent military presence in South Korea could be the next subject for 'Mysteries of the Abandoned'.
4/22/2020 05:46:13 pm
How often? Well, the illegal American invasion of Syria is regularly in the news, as is the fact that we've been asked to withdraw forces from Iraq. We have a base in, what is it? Dubai? For extra credit there's also the military presence in Africa. All knowable to anyone who reads either the Washington Post or New York Times. Then there's the U.S. support of the Saudi war on Yemen...
Jr. Time Lord
4/20/2020 07:48:47 pm
Is the "Lost Legion" the group allegedly having steel armored horses?
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