Another “British Invasion” TV review for a show that, sadly, finished up last year for U.K. fans and earlier this year for U.S. fans: Merlin. I don’t know if it gained a lot of traction across the pond, but in the States Merlin seemed to remain a hidden gem on the Syfy channel. Although it’s hard to draw attention to legitimate shows on Syfy when the channel continues to produce atrocities like Sharknado (Has everybody heard about this movie? If not…just watch this).
I decided to watch Merlin a little out of the blue. I vaguely remembered a friend saying she enjoyed the show, and for whatever reason, I was craving something fantasy. So I checked out the first season from the library, not expecting much. To my surprise, I tore through the season and eagerly sought more. Merlin is just that kind of show. You start it one day with every intention of watching a single episode. Three hours later, you’ve finished a disc. For pure entertainment purposes, Merlin is a great go-to.
Synopsis: “The adventures of the legendary sorcerer as a young man.” –Borrowed from my favorite movie site, IMDb.
The Good: Most of these episodes are a lot of fun. There’s a nice balance of humor, action/adventure, and magic that make the show incredibly easy to watch and enjoy. The story centers on the legendary title character (played by Colin Morgan) and the macho ruler of Camelot, Arthur Pendragon (Bradley James). We get to meet them at the beginning of their relationship, and it’s not quite what the legends describe. Merlin isn’t the great wizard we all know from Arthurian tales—he’s a young man desperately trying to hide his powers in his new home, Camelot, where practicing magic is punishable by death. Meanwhile, Arthur is still the prince of Camelot, at the beck and call of his father, King Uther (Anthony Head). When Merlin and Arthur first meet, they hate each other. But as fate would have it, Merlin somehow winds up as the prince’s new servant. Throughout the series, we get to see their relationship grow from a lukewarm, master-servant situation to a full-on bromance, complete with plenty of hilarity and even some “aww” moments. Morgan and James have nice chemistry, and to watch them play off each other is a treat. And, of course, an Arthurian tale wouldn’t be complete without familiar names like Guinevere (Angel Coulby), Morgana, (Katie McGrath), Lancelot (Santiago Cabrera), Gwaine (Eoin Macken), Mordred (Alexander Vlahos), and so many more. Throw in Richard Wilson as Merlin’s mentor, Gaius, and John Hurt as the voice of a massive dragon, and it’s a pretty awesome bunch. Favorite moment: The entire episode of “A Servant of Two Masters” from season four. Basically, Merlin is involuntarily recruited as an assassin. He just so happens to be the worst, clumsiest assassin of all time. The episode is arguably the best of the series, expertly blending a lot of humor with just a pinch of drama.
The Bad: Though the show starts out very lighthearted, it gradually becomes darker, ultimately concluding in a way that is likely to disappoint many viewers. Merlin does loosely follow some plot points of the Arthurian legends, but so much is reinterpreted that it’s a surprise when the creators adhere to one event that brings the series to a sudden, dramatic end after five short seasons. It leaves you wanting more and almost wishing you hadn’t watched the last episode. Frankly, I feel like the creators wasted a lot of potential by limiting this show to a five-season run. Allowing for another season or two would’ve meant introducing a new dynamic to the show, but it would’ve been a welcome change. Instead, fans are left with a dissatisfying heap of “what ifs.” From what I understand, the Arthurian legends follow Merlin, Arthur, and the Knights of the Round Table throughout a somewhat lengthy reign. In the case of this BBC series, it seems like the golden years of Camelot are over before they’ve even begun. Least favorite moment: The very last shot of the series. It’s meant to be bittersweet, I’m sure, but it just makes me sad. And a little mad.
To Sum It Up: Does this show end too soon? Absolutely. Should you let that discourage you? No way. Merlin, though short-lived, is a magical, funny, bromantic blast. It might not strictly follow the classic legends you’ve heard, and much of the show may have more of a modern vibe than a medieval one (particularly in regards to dialogue and certain character interactions), but it’s still a nice little escape for fantasy fans. And, ladies, fair warning: you might just fall in love with Colin Morgan. I’ll admit it, I did (seriously, just look at that smile ). But who wouldn’t? He does a truly fantastic job of embodying such a well-known character in his younger years. Overall, I would say that this show does a good job of bringing a fresh interpretation of Camelot to the (round) table. Just prepare yourself for the end. It’s a doozie.
My Grade: B+