Merlin (Season 1)
Merlin comes to Camelot with high hopes and innate magical powers. He’s taken under the wing of the court physician, Gaius, but additionally becomes the servant of young Prince Arthur, a handsome and talented fighter who’s also a bully and a snob. Rounding out the main cast are Morgana, who will one day be Merlin’s foe but is now Uther’s ward, and Gwen, a.k.a. Guinevere, the woman who will one day be the center of a legendary love triangle- but who is now Morgana’s maid.
Plot Rating: 4/5
“Merlin” is, as the title and description suggests, an alternate re-telling of Arthurian legends from the point of view of Merlin himself. Merlin is just a young man who possesses amazing magical powers. He comes to Camelot at the request of his mother, who is sending him to apprentice to Gaius, the court physician who used to dabble in magic himself, before King Uthor Pendragon made it illegal under pain of death.
Merlin must hide what he is and learn to take the harder road rather than the easy out his powers present to him. He is guided not only by Gaius, but also by the Last Dragon, chained beneath the dungeons of Camelot, who advises Merlin on his destiny to protect and guide the arrogant and haughty Prince Arthur.
While Merlin and Arthur start out hating one another, Merlin manages to save Arthur’s life in front of the entire court, earning himself the less-than-desired role of the Prince’s servant.
To the side is the story of Lady Morgana, King Uthor’s ward (known in the legends as the evil sorceress Morgana Le Fay) and Gwen, Morgana’s maid (the future Queen Guenivere of Camelot), who is Morgana’s friend, confidant, and crush of Merlin.
I really enjoy this show, but in all honesty it is not particularly addicting in the first season. The monsters are a bit toony, and the dialogue is awkward and on-the-nose, bordering on cliche much of the time, yet for all that it’s still a good watch. This program is DEFINITELY kid-friendly, but adults will get good laughs out of it as well. The violence is nowhere near graphic, and the monsters aren’t all that frightening.
Acting Score 5/5
In this first season the acting can be rough in parts, but I think a lot of that should be attributed to the awkward writing, so I am not taking points off here.
Colin Morgan steals the show as young Merlin, a quirky boy who can be both emotionally driven and playful in everything he does. Colin plays both comedic and serious scenes well, though he’s a little awkward on the transitions between emotions, though only early on. Not surprising, considering this was his first real television acting role.
Bradley James plays Arthur perfectly as a snobby and arrogant prince, but one who also feels a strong sense of duty and who lives to protect his people, even if he is a bit abusive to his servants. He has brilliant chemistry with Colin Morgan and it really shows through his own performance.
Angel Coulby and Katie McGrath play Gwen and Lady Morgana (respectively) with perfection. You can see how Gwen will one day become the Guinevere of legend, and Morgana seems far too kind as of yet to be Morgan Le Fay, but in her arguing matches with Uthor you get a glimpse of who she will become.
Guest stars and minor characters also do an incredible job. John Hurt voices the Great Dragon well (even if the CGI is cartoony), and Anthony Head makes a wicked and fierce Uthor Pendragon. Finally, rounding out the recurring cast, Richard Wilson does a great job as the mentor, physician, and father-figure to Merlin, Gaius. Even if his wig is a bit awkward…
Age Rating: 7+
There are no real issues here, so I’m setting an arbitrary age rating for the show. There is not significant cursing, but some kind of heavy back stories may make parents uncomfortable to show young children (namely Uthor’s murder of children and love for burning those accused of sorcery). Also, the monsters are a bit toony, but they can still be frightening. I highly recommend viewing a few episodes yourself to determine if your child will be alright.
There is no nudity, sex, or significant language, so the rating is purely based on non-graphic violence and implied violence.
In the role of Arthur, the final decision came down to Bradley James (who was given the role) and “Primeval’s” Ben Mansfield.
“Merlin” is the first UK drama to air on a major US network (Sci-Fy) since “The New Avengers” more than 30 years ago.
19 cast members and guest stars of “Merlin” have appeared in “Doctor Who” episodes, including stars Colin Morgan/Merlin (Season 4’s “Midnight”), Richard Wilson/Gaius (Season 1’s “The Doctor Dances” and “The Empty Child”), Anthony Head/Uthor Pendragon (Season 2’s “School Reunion”), and Angel Coulby/Gwen (Season 2’s “The Girl in the Fireplace”).
According to cast interviews, Bradley James (Arthur) is the most vicious prankster on set, with Angel Coulby (Gwen) being his favorite target and Colin Morgan (Merlin) his usual accomplice.
Katie McGrath (Morgana) uses her natural Irish accent in the show, but Colin Morgan (also an Irish actor) uses a fake English accent. The producers almost did not hire Katie McGrath because, if Merlin had an Irish accent, they did not want anyone else in the series having one. Thankfully Colin Morgan managed to nail a perfect English accent (Katie McGrath had more difficulties doing so) and so they were able to keep her.
Crew members have to ensure Colin Morgan remains indoors or under canopies whenever he is not shooting so as to avoid Merlin being pale in one scene and tan in the next.
Due to a trick of casting, nearly all sorcerers or magic users in the show have dark hair and pale eyes. If you pay close attention to the characters, you can predict who sorcerers are.