We got another double-shot of the imported British series MERLIN this week, and it has made good on its promise and developed into a solidly entertaining series. The writing is strong, but the casting and acting is even better. Colin Morgan makes Merlin awkward without turning him into a buffoon, while Bradley James’ Arthur seems to be a snob purely because it’s expected. He is already showing hints that he will be a king more concerned with justice and fairness than rules and ceremony.
As strong as the dialogue and characterization have been, the plotlines are a little too concerned with the use of magic. Last night’s first episode dealt with Gaius and Merlin trying to cure a magical sickness, and the second dealt with finding a cure for a magical poison. I think the stories could have been spaced out a little more, eh? I did laugh when Gaius told Uther that his “scientific process” pointed to magic as the source of the plague ravaging Camelot. Michelle Ryan — best know to American audiences for her starring role in last year’s aborted revamp of The Bionic Woman — made her debut as the series’ Big Bad, the witch Nimueh, and she certainly showcases the seductive side of evil. The best line of the night honors went to King Uther, for insisting that while Merlin’s life isn’t “worthless,” it’s “worth less” than Arthur’s. Still, Uther is portrayed as an officious jerk, because I guess parents just don’t understand, no matter what century they’re in.
In the great tradition of British SF/fantasy series (like the pre-2005 version of DOCTOR WHO), the producers of MERLIN had absolutely no money for special effects, so poor James was forced to scowl and wave his sword in the air when Arthur was supposed to be fighting the afanc water beast and the cockatrice in the woods. I guess the costumer could not afford a shield, either, so the-powers-that-be dropped the tradition of the cockatrice’s gaze turning people to stone. Petrification isn’t free, people!
Originally published on SoapOperaWeekly.com