The Sorceror Apprentice

While the BBC fantasy-drama Merlin might appear to be another Smallville-type re-imagination of a popular myth, showcasing a cast of teenage characters and their insecure relationships, it turns out to be sharp, interesting, and entertaining, although it should not be taken too seriously.

Like Smallville, Merlin is a myth retold.  In the series, Merlin and Arthur’s traditional roles reverse.  Merlin does not appear as an old, wise, and sometimes benevolent wizard to guide young Arthur, or Wart (his nickname before pulling the Sword from the Stone), but rather as a penniless peasant boy in search of employment at the Castle.   Arthur, no longer the lowly servant and unknown progeny of King Pendragon, is the Prince and leader of the Knights of Camelot.  Merlin works for Arthur as his squire, and he must use his magic unseen to guide the Prince on his prophesied path to unite the kingdoms of Albion.

If Merlin were caught using magic, it would make him an immediate candidate for beheading by order of King Uther, who has outlawed the practice.  Luckily, the court physician, Gauis, who had a regrettable hand in Uther’s purging of sorcery in years past, protects him.  Gaius understands Merlin’s importance to the kingdom, and that he will one day allow magic to return.  Merlin also receives guidance from a Dragon secretly chained in the castle dungeon: an elegant CGI creation with the voice of John Hurt.

Although some episodes veer towards the cheesy, they lack the emo, pop-rock soundtrack familiar to other television dramas (i.e. Smallville), which can lead to a reflexive channel change.  Intense action sequences, sword fighting, lances, and, of course, magic helps this novel unfolding of the legend counteract the lethargy of sophomoric relationships.  And there is always the unseasoned protagonist Merlin, who with the grim threat of death hanging over his head, solves the myriad crises with a smile and shrug

If you’re still not convinced to check out the show, you can heed the advice of a BBC telecaster, who wryly remarked after an episode close that it’s “another great reason to stay out of the rain.”

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