Thursday, August 13, 2009

Merlin - Season 1 Review

UK Airdate: 20th September - 13th December 2008

In Camelot, the use of magic has been outlawed by King Uther Pendragon, much to the chagrin of many practitioners. However when a young Merlin arrives, it seems that some things really can’t be suppressed, no matter how dangerous they are.

Keep The Magic Secret: With Doctor Who being more or less the king of Saturday night television fantasy drama, it’s fantastic that for the first time, we’ve had something that finally comes close to being as entertaining as it.

Both Robin Hood and Primeval have had their moments, starting well in ratings before their slow decline and eventual cancellations (both in the same year no less) but neither of them garnered the same amount of press coverage or critical acclaim as the returned Time Lord. Merlin in this respect comes close yet again.

While there’s no doubting that this incarnation of the legendary sorcerer isn’t without its flaws – its thrown caution to the wind approach with established myths and it’s on occasion cheesiness, there’s no denying that this was the cream of the crop for British television in the last quarter of 2008.

Casting the right actor for the role of Merlin was always going to be tantamount to its success. You needed someone who oozed charm, warmth and someone that audiences could simply buy into playing the boy learning and honing his magic. Colin Morgan turned out to be a terrific choice for the role.

Merlin’s reluctance to accept his magic (as well as his occasional recklessness with it) are played to the actor’s strength. Merlin may never have been seen this young beforehand on TV but it certainly works in the audiences favour as well as the series.

Throughout the first season, there’s a gamut of great storylines that are told. We see Merlin deal with and accept the things he can and can’t do. We also see him develop various dynamics with certain people as well when humour isn’t being derived from his expense.

His relationship with Arthur, played to bratty brilliance by Bradley James is certainly a highpoint of the first year. With this genre inspiring some much Fanfiction, the interplay between Merlin and Arthur really does offer some lively discussion when it’s not giving slashers a field day in material.

Okay we know that neither guy is gay but if the actors themselves are aware that viewers see a ‘relationship’ between master/servant and can talk about it freely, it’s certainly not a harmful thing. Arthur might be bratty but he does keep Merlin on his toes.

Also throughout the collection of thirteen episodes, Merlin does more than his fair share of saving Arthur’s butt that by the time when Arthur is placed in the position of doing the same, it’s a bloody relief. Their friendship is definitely a great thing with the show, through and through.

More importantly however is the way Merlin and Arthur are with other people too. Uther for the most tolerates Merlin when him and Arthur aren’t testing each other while Gaius spent most of the time going above and beyond trying to keep Merlin out of trouble. He was even willing to sacrifice himself to Nimeuh in order to protect Merlin as well.

As for the ladies, isn’t it great that both Morgana and Gwen are as awesome as each other? Given that the writers themselves have even compared their own show to Smallville, you’d think one of the ladies would be the Lana Lang of the show. So far, not so much.

Out of the two however, Gwen is probably the least vocalised of the bunch. Sure, we get moments where she flirts with Merlin and Arthur, is taken by Lancelot or has to witness her father dying when she’s not accused of witchcraft herself but there are also moments where you just feel that she could be given more to do.

Morgana obviously fares much better in the show, especially by the second half when it’s uncovered that she’s a seer. I love the reveal of Morgana being gifted with the sight but I also love the fact that she’s the only character who consistently challenges Uther, when some of her darker moments aren’t bubbling to the surface as well. She just about stopped herself from bumping Uther off at one point.

Uther is probably the weakest character from the first season, which is a shame given how brilliant Anthony Stewart Head is as an actor. His militant, tyrannical hatred of magic seems to be far more (or just as much) dangerous as the variety of magical nasties that Merlin spends most of his time fighting off week after week, even if there’s a fairly good reason behind it. Given that this show has a five year plan and that Uther seems to make enemies so easily, I’ll be very surprised if he’s with this series until the bitter end.

Villain wise, the first season is reasonably good in that department. Michelle Ryan is particularly delightful as Nimeuh and it’s a real pity that we didn’t get her in more than four episodes. Unlikely as it is, I’d be delighted if somehow she made it back from the grave. Similarly Eve Myles was fun as Mary, Will Mellor brought a nasty veneer to Valiant and we also did get to see a very young Mordred as well. Arthur is so gonna regret helping that kid out. Plus there’s unstoppable knight, Edwin, Sophia as well as a Questing Beast. In other words, plenty to keep you entertained.

DVD EXTRAS: First off all, the BBC need to lose this split-season/vanilla releases they occasionally tend to adopt with certain shows. A full DVD set of this has recently popped out but I only possess the split season one. Commentaries, there are plenty and from main cast members too but I wished that we had one for “La Morte d’Arthur”. The cast video diaries however are an absolute scream and seriously worth the set alone while the two-part “Behind The Magic” nicely shows viewers principal filming and premiere attendances of the first season. There’s also a nice selection of wallpapers and photos, including downloadable ones as well. Colin Morgan’s Video Diaries also shows some more filming as well.


1x01: The Dragon’s Call = 8/10, 1x02: Valiant = 7/10,
1x03: The Mark Of Nimeuh = 8/10, 1x04: The Poisoned Chalice = 8/10,
1x05: Lancelot = 8/10, 1x06: A Cure To Remedy All Ills = 7/10,
1x07: The Gates Of Avalon = 7/10, 1x08: The Beginning Of The End = 9/10,
1x09: Excalibur = 9/10, 1x10: The Moment Of Truth = 8/10,
1x11: The Legend Of Gedref = 8/10, 1x12: To Kill The King = 9/10.
1x13: La Morte d’Arthur = 9/10.

Season 1 is currently available on DVD.


Christina said...

"Okay we know that neither guy is gay"

You mean the characters, right? Because we don't know anything about the actors themselves.

shawnlunn2002 said...

I mean the characters, given that Merlin and Arthur's dynamic does inspire certain pieces of fanfiction, not the actors.

Thanks for the review. I'm looking forward to Season 2 next month.