Feb 23, 2012

[TV] Merlin: Season 1 (BBC)

I have never read the actual stories about King Arthur and his Knights of the Round table. I have no idea why this is so, but I figured I'd start this review by first admitting this fact. I do plan to get around to adding the Arthurian legends to my repository of knowledge about classic myths and legends, but there's not definite deadline for that particular task just yet.

I have no clear idea why I ever took the time to watch this series - nor do I understand why I have continued to download the episodes of this show without any real rush to watch them either. They just sort of exist there as part of our collection of movies and TV shows on file and sometimes I get odd urges to give the show another shot. And that's about it.

Some would argue that some of the protagonists are sort of cute, but I don't see that. Nor do I particularly find their version of the story more interesting than what I know of the original legends.

But it does feature the voice of John Hurt in a fantasy setting. And maybe my nostalgia for The Storyteller just kept me interested enough to see where the show might go.


Merlin is a 2008 fantasy-adventure series produced by Shine Limited and originally broadcast on BBC One. The show was created by Julian Jones, Jake Michie, Johnny Capps and Julian Murphy.

The story has pretty much most of the "core" characters of the Arthurian legends as being in the same peer group, given the show's roots in being inspired by shows like Smallville, of all things. So here Merlin (Colin Morgan) is a young man who happens to have the ability to control magic. However Uther Pendragon (Anthony Head), the king, has outlawed magic and thus Merlin must do his best to hide his talent. But Gaius (Richard Wilson), the court physician, recognizes his talent and offers to help Merlin learn to control his powers while keeping him safely in his care.

This leads to Merlin needing a role at the palace, and he gets assigned to be young Arthur's servant. Arthur (Bradley James) is not the noble King-in-the-making though. Instead he's a headstrong, arrogant boor and he and Merlin immediately don't get along. Butt he two are forced to be together because of the working relationship and Merlin ends up working in secret to keep Arthur safe from external threats.

Other weird plot angles involve the fact that Morgana (Katie McGrath) is Uther Pendragon's ward somehow and there's a dragon (John Hurt) being held prisoner deep beneath the castle. Don't ask me how all these characters are in the same time frame.

So it probably helps to not know too much about the Arthurian legends when watching this show given the rather liberal approach to the character concepts. Well, that and the language. And maybe even some of the costumes. This show is not at all targeted towards those who love classical fantasies stories in general.

Acting is, well, rather flat. So flat one could say that it's bad. Really bad. But it's a first season and we are talking about rather young actors after all and so there's a natural expectation that they'll be a tad raw. And it doesn't help that the characters still needed development (at least from my perspective) since I felt they had a greater tendency to be more like caricatures of actual people instead of fully fleshed-out characters.

This first season just sort of wandered around with Merlin accidentally using his magic here and there, some evil plot being hatched and foiled in the same episode and not much else. It just follows that cycle over and over again with Merlin constantly visiting the dragon in order to gain this week's nugget of wisdom while renewing his promise to one day free the mythical beast. It gets rather tiring, quite frankly.

But one can only expect so much from a show that was crafted to be a fantasy version of Smallville for British audiences. What makes things interesting is the fact that the show has already gone on for 4 seasons, which just gets me more and more curious about what people in the show. I think that's the only reason why I periodically return to trying to watch the DVDs - just to see if something good happens further down the road that might explain why the show is supposed to be so good. So sue me.

Merlin is a very, very light version of the Arthurian legends for a teen audience and with medieval sensibilities similar to the movie A Knight's Tale. It barely rates 2 lousy demonstrations of Merlin's largely telekinetic magic out of a possible 5.




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