Even if you're unable to put them all in the right chronological order or discern which individual came first and what side of the fence they're on, when you hear words and phrases like King Arthur, Knights of the Round Table, Camelot, Excalibur, Lancelot and Guinevere, Sword in the Stone, Avalon and Merlin, you have an instant recognition and connection to the mythological legend that makes this origin story reboot that much more universal.
Using a Smallville inspired approach, Merlin the series appears to be royal England's version of its very own Superman in beginning right at the very beginning of the tale of the powerful sorcerer Merlin (Colin Morgan) back when he was a teenager trying to hide his penchant for magic from the land of Camelot where it is banned.
And despite its repetitive nature, which may have worked better when aired on television one week apart since most episodes follow the same story arc of trouble in Camelot, near-death, secret use of magic and/or a battle saves the day, it's a multi-generational charmer.
Moreover, thanks to the lavish production values, spirited cast, and epic scope that sets up major plot points early on using a breadcrumb approach as we briefly meet Lancelot and anticipate the future of the series, Merlin actually drew even greater audience numbers when it aired in the United States as the first British series to play on a major network (NBC) in decades.
And although it takes great liberties with the traditional legend, its adventurous set-up may actually encourage viewers to pick up the various books that have adapted the tale to try and figure out what is going to happen down the road when we finally get past the “hide the magic” set-up and into situations of actual life and death as opposed to the poisoned potion/shield/food supply of the week approach.
While generations familiar with the storyline may grow a bit anxious for more concrete plot development, its ingenious blend of literature and freewheeling fun is sure to attract fantasy minded Generation Y viewers as Merlin first arrives in Camelot to work under the tutelage of the court physician Gaius (Richard Wilson) before he saves Prince Arthur (Bradley James) from certain death and is given the “promotion” by King Uther (Anthony Head) to look after his son full time as Arthur's manservant.
Given its colorblind casting and progressive attitude, soon Arthur befriends his manservant Merlin and in turn grows fond of other lower class subjects such as the lovely Guinevere (Angel Coulby) who serves his father's ward, the lady Morgana (Katie McGrath).
Nicely revealing that perhaps Merlin isn't the only one to have magic he's hiding away so as to avoid execution, the series which also includes the great advice giving dragon (voiced by John Hurt) surprises viewers when we learn that a member of the royal family may actually have the gift as well.
Obviously, given the dialogue of one being born with it and unable to help magic – which can be used for good or evil – the series works as a nice allegory on differences between people and accepting others for who they are regardless of race, disability or orientation etc. but this interpretation – similar to that found in X-Men about “outsiders” -- is one that is likely to occur to most on a subconscious level since above all, Merlin is just plain fun.
Wonderfully cast and gorgeously filmed in a way that made me wish it was also available on Blu-ray to see the kingdom come alive in 1080 pixels, this five disc set that includes all thirteen episodes also includes wallpapers, video diaries and behind-the-scenes footage on a separate special features disc.
Despite its origin plot-line which ensures that unfortunately not much happens in the first season since it's just meant to establish and work as a building block to the next installment, Merlin is easily engrossing. Furthermore, although the series that is also produced by the same network that has brought viewers both Doctor Who and Torchwood may not make you feel like you're ready to join the Round Table just yet, but it definitely makes you anxious for the following season, which is the mark of a successful series all around.
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FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I received a review copy of this title in order to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.
Labels: TV on DVD