TV Series Review: Merlin

MERLINOccasionally, I will do a review of a movie or a TV series if it is particularly literary. I’m pretty sure Merlin (2008-2012) counts, and I’m also pretty sure it was all an excuse to keep watching a TV series which I was almost immediately addicted to.

At any rate, I have taken this post-Merlin time to gather in the books from the Best Book list that have anything to do with Arthurian legend. I am almost done with T. H. White’s Once and Future King series (including The Book of Merlyn), and will be continuing (after a short break to catch up with my daughter’s reading) with Lawhead’s Pengradon Cycle, Stewart’s Merlin Trilogy, The Mists of Avalon, and Over Sea, Under Stone. Reviews on the way.

Now, let’s see if I can remember and synthesize all those hours spent on the BBC’s five seasons of Merlin.

Let me first say that I was cognizant from the beginning that this was not a spectacular series. There were glaring casting issues with one or two of the main characters. The special effects were laughable. And after a little while, it was clear that character and plot development would be slow and circular and at times reeeealy frustrating.

However, I found myself–along with many Brits–simply addicted to this show. Why? I can’t exactly say, but I think it had something to do with the excellent casting of Merlin and Arthur and just how lovable both of the character were. Also, there is something addictive about the Arthurian legends. I suppose it might also have to do with my love of British shows which includes a deep appreciation for ending a series, on purpose, before the things dies. I had faith that there was an end game for this series, and that it was going to wrap up whatever was happening from the very first episode. You just don’t get that with American shows.

Also note that the series is purposely family friendly, so they never quite go there with sex or bloody violence. If you could convince your kids to watch with you, it might make the whole thing better.

Also note that the Arthurian legends are, by nature, variant. The story-telling in this series takes some liberties, but I enjoyed many of the changes that were made. The premise is a teenage Merlin who comes to a Camelot where Arthur was growing up the handsome, privileged son of the somewhat tyrannous Uther Pendragon. Morgana lives as a ward of the king, and Guinevere is her servant. The bumbling yet lovable Merlin enters a world of illegal magic where his powers must be kept hidden in the most dangerous of places, as he is very quickly appointed as Arthur’s servant and comes to understand his secret destiny as protector of the king-to-be. Lancelot, Tristam, Nimue, Morgause, Mordred, and others make an appearance, although sometimes completely re-imagined.

So, would I recommend Merlin? Not surprisingly, yes and no. If you should choose to watch, you may become addicted yourself and you’ll have to endure an unbelievable Guinevere who you desperately want to see as Guinevere but just can’t, episodes which are occasionally a carbon copy of a previous episode, relationships which stagnate for literally the whole series, a major character transformation which is terribly bumpy and sad and unbelievable (I was going to throw the remote across the room if I had to endure one more evil smirk from Morgana), those laughable special effects, and a lack of accomplishment before the denouement. If none of this is going to bother you, check it out.

Or just check it out and keep it your own little secret.

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