Merlin – The Complete First Season (2008/BBC DVD Set)
C+ Sound: C+ Extras: B- Episodes: B+
television series that name checks Geoffrey of Monmouth, as a recurring
character, deserves a serious look-see. And, in this case, it is
well-deserved. Though only a minor character, his inclusion is indicative
of the overall series approach, an approach that may be assessed as very
produced by Shine Limited for the BBC, Merlin
at once dovetails BBC cred with the Shine independent sensibility that produced
the successful Hex series.
Cynics see the series as riding on the coat tails of the Potter phenomenon and
they are, of course, right in that. However, the open door that producers
perceived they have chosen not to slink in but boldly stride through.
roles are all taken by relatively young, relatively inexperienced actors and
casting must be noted as the show’s first triumph. The general setup,
which might just as easily be called Merlin:
The Early Years or Young Merlin,
follows the young magician in an apprenticeship to Gaius, the court physician
at Camelot. Merlin is portrayed by Colin Morgan, who is simply brilliant
in the role; charismatic, believable, and exciting; he leads a stellar cast in
a fresh take on British “historical” lore. If you are looking for a slavish dedication to
the original source material, Merlin is not for you. The First
Season chronicles Merlin’s coming to Camelot, where the King, Uther
Pendragon, has banned all magic, his first encounters with Prince Arthur, and
various supporting characters, such as Guinevere, Morgana, and Lancelot.
overarching storyline, which is frequently the major drawback of prequels, is
very nicely paced, so there is little of the jarring feeling between standalone
episodes and mythos stories, if you will, as there often were in fantasy shows
such as Buffy and The X-Files. Guinevere is played
in a restrained, toned down manner by Angel Coulby, giving the role an almost
Cinderella-ish feel. Morgana, (Katie McGrath) is a spot-on blend of
hauteur, earthiness, and sexuality; there is a constant, potent suggestion of
trouble ahead. Bradley James’s Prince Arthur is something of a
tallow-headed jock and if this sounds like a cliché, it is; yet, he pulls off,
quite probably because, in his constant pairing with Merlin, he brings a nice
contrast to the show. Further, the cliché is not static; James flesh out
the role nicely and giving it a multi-dimensional quality
it is the older actors who were, according to the two-part behind the scenes
extra, hired to provide stability that prove to be most problematic. In
particular, Anthony Head just seems uncomfortable in his role of angry monarch,
Uther Pendragon; often he manages, more often he misses the mark. It
feels like he is reading the character wrong, yet making a workman-like
effort. To a lesser extent, Richard Wilson’s Gaius seems somehow
understated or perhaps underwritten. One might begin to take bets when he
will be killed off (and the writers play off nicely on this idea in the final
episode) and in that may lie the problem. One can’t avoid all sense of
predestination in a prequel whose outcome is, ahem, set in stone.
consists of 12 episodes. CGI has come a long way from previous television
fantasy incarnations that Merlin
evokes, such as Xena and Hercules. Only the long shots
really seem unnatural and a good deal of the special effects are just that,
considering their small screen origins. The repetitive nature of some of
the tropes – Merlin saves someone’s life, Arthur is indebted, Arthur
alternately treats Merlin as a servant or a friend – can get a bit wearing
after awhile, but on the whole this time kind of thing passes painlessly.
It remains to be seen in the coming seasons if these kinds of traps can be
avoided. One would expect a show of this nature, if all goes correctly,
to grow with its young actors and, in that, there is some hope for the future,
both of Merlin and a certain once and future king.
be most surprising of all is the level of consistency from episode to episode;
there is very little falling off of quality or interest. Stories move
along nicely on their own while the writers are busy filling in background
which will inevitably come to the fore. As with the main cast, villains
and other guest appearances tend to be quite strong. Casting may,
in fact, be the series’ strongest suit. Occasionally, the plotting
becomes predictable, which really is unsurprising in a show of this nature, dealing
as it does with a dualistic view of life, good vs. evil. Hopefully,
Merlin will explore some of the grey areas in between, as the philosophical
underpinnings magic itself would suggest it might.
show for all ages, slanted perhaps to a slightly younger demographic, Merlin is aired in the U.S.
on ABC. Though it might be too much to hope that a stray copy of “The History of the Kings of Britain”
might be seen laying about in a future episode, still, with Geoffrey of
Monmouth serving as a sort of surrogate librarian (perhaps this is why Anthony
Head seems so out of sorts), a girl might dream, eh?