Summer is a time for barbecues. Summer is a time for beaches. Summer is a time for sunshine and relaxation. Summer is a time for tans and vacations. Summer is not typically a time for quality television. Any given summer the percentage of reality tv I watch is somewhere around 99%. This summer is hardly the exception as I’ve spent countless hours watching horrible/amazing reality shows (Jon and Kate Plus 8, The Bachelorette, So You Think You Can Dance, Kathy Griffin: My Life on the D-List, Kendra, 16 and Pregnant, I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out of Here, Cake Boss…just to name a “few”). Because of this I’m much more willing to hop on board for any new series that premiers in the summer. In the past, there haven’t been many scripted shows which premiered in the summer that I actually stuck with; however, there are the few rare exceptions (here’s looking at you The OC). So last night I decided to give Merlin a try.
In case you haven’t seen the previews, Merlin is the reimagined story of the great sorcerer. The main difference between this retelling and others is that it takes place when the all-powerful sorcerer is a young, disrespected , and slightly dorky young adult. The premiere begins with Merlin arriving in Camelot to live with Gaius, the court’s physician. We quickly learn that Merlin has some magical powers and his mother sent him to Camelot because he was drawing too much attention to himself in his small hometown. Oddly enough we also quickly learn that King Uther (played by Anthony Head!) has outlawed all magic practices in Camelot, on penalty of death. Now, why Merlin’s mother thought sending him to Camelot was a good idea is beyond me, but I can look past that. The episode really gets interesting when Merlin stumbles upon a bullying knight. The two begin to argue and surprise: the knight is none other than Prince Arthur. The first episode results in Merlin secretively using his magic to stop a vengeful witch from killing Arthur. King Uther rewards Merlin for saving his son by making him Arthur’s man servant (and yes, he actually calls Merlin a man servant). Merlin (and myself) questions why this is a reward but episode two finds Merlin actually enjoying his new position.
Of course no television show would be complete without a little loving and Merlin clearly has a love rectangle in the works. Merlin is easily infatuated by a lady in the court, Morgana. Morgana however has her eyes on Arthur. The fourth participant in this rectangle is Morgana’s maid Gwen (as in Guinevere, the once and future wife). Gwen takes a liking to the adorable Merlin, and interestingly finds Arthur despicable.
It’s hard to watch this show without making the obvious comparison to Smallville. Both stories are a retelling from much early on. Both clearly have to do with one’s destiny. In Smallville the voice of Jor-El informs Clark that he is destined to do great things. In Merlin the talking dragon (yup, you read that right) tells the sorcerer-to-be that his destiny is to protect Arthur. Both shows also play with the audience’s understanding of the mythology in order to create jokes (just as Lois is disgusted by the prospect of dating Clark, Gwen ironically asks, “who’d want to marry Arthur”). I’m not entirely sure if this comparison bodes well for the show or not but it definitely needs to be addressed.
Easily the best part of Merlin is the chemistry between the title character and Arthur (played impeccably by Colin Morgan and Bradley James). The banter between the two is both humorous and adorable. This is the second time I used the term adorable and really that’s what these two actors are. It’s hard to watch a scene between the two without smiling. To be fair, all the male actors were wonderfully cast…I’m still waiting to decide about the females.
All in all, Merlin is more of a family drama than anything else. So far it’s quality television but it’ll take a few more episodes to make a solid judgment. Check it out on nbc.com if you missed it. If anything Merlin is an hour of childish, escapist fun.