TV Review: Merlin Series 1

Looking for an inoffensive lockdown series to binge? I decide to revisit Merlin

“You hear the word magic and stop listening”

Just going to cover these quickly as with the greatest of respect, Merlin perfectly fills that mindless TV spot for me, something to have on that mildly entertains without having to engage the brain at any point. And that it did well once again, the series actually becoming one of the more popular on iPlayer and Netflix (if not quite reaching cult status).

Looking to fill the family-friendly slot that the revived Doctor Who did so well to reopen, Julian Jones, Jake Michie, Johnny Capps and Julian Murphy reconceived Arthurian legend to create a reimagined fantasy series that posited Merlin as a contemporary of Prince Arthur in a Camelot where magic is outlawed, thus he becomes Arthur’s manservant under the tutelage of wise old Gaius.

Series 1 naturally has a lot of setting up to do but what is rather good fun about it is how confident the show is in establishing a formula and then following it religiously throughout. So a main character falls into mortal peril, Merlin has no choice but to go and see the Great Dragon for help and then after fixing it, he and Gaius tell a bad joke and chuckle as the credits roll.

It’s ridiculous but never once taken too seriously so it’s all good fun in the end. Colin Morgan’s puppyish Merlin connects well with the blokish energy of Bradley James’ entitled Arthur, Angel Coulby’s Gwen (also in the serving classes for the moment) and Katie McGrath’s Morgana offer sterling support, and Anthony Head’s King Uther is reliably antagonistic as his hatred and fear of magic causes no end of trouble.

Michelle Ryan’s Nimueh acts as the season’s big bad (of sorts) but it is a shame that things go the way they do as it might have been nice to develop her more over multiple seasons, given her tangled history with so many characters. One thing I had forgotten is how small the casts for each episode actually were and so expanding the ensemble this way might have been more forward-thinking, but there’s much more villainry to come… 

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