A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Merlin takes place in a Camelot very different from the one portrayed in other versions of the King Arthur legend. In this swords-'n'-sorcery series, Merlin is young and untrained, King Uther Pendragon is something of a despot, practicing magic is a crime punishable by death, and Prince Arthur is a spoiled bully. There's no swearing and little romance, but expect plenty of action involving dark magic, swords, daggers, and other medieval weaponry.
What's the story?
Most people are familiar with Merlin, the wizened old wizard who served as advisor and mentor to noble King Arthur. But does anyone know how the powerful sorcerer learned to master magic? MERLIN focuses on the legendary wizard's teenage years, opening as the young, untrained magician (Colin Morgan), newly arrived in Camelot, is quickly tapped to become Prince Arthur's manservant. But this isn't a Camelot that will be familiar to people who know and love the legend. King Uther Pendragon (Anthony Head), Arthur's father, clearly cares for his subjects, but he's also a bit of a despot who believes that a stern hand is the best way to rule. He's banned the practice of magic, which he blames for sowing dissent in the land -- a policy that means Merlin must keep his talents under wraps. And Arthur (Bradley James) is a teenage bully who likes nothing more than terrorizing pages and commoners. But Merlin soon learns that it's his destiny to help Arthur assume his own destiny, clearly a challenge that will require a good bit of magic.
Is it any good?
This show offers a new take on a different stage of the King Arthur legend, but the legendary wizard deserves a more impressive series than this; it's fun, but it lacks magic. Everyone knows how that story turns out, but the main characters' early years don't typically get as much attention. The show takes significant liberties with the conventions -- though there are so many versions of the story that there's plenty of tolerance for change. Making Merlin a novice magician and turning Arthur into a thoroughly unlikable jerk places the characters at the start of a developmental journey, inviting viewers along to see how they finally get to their well-known destination.
While the idea is solid, the execution is a little shaky. James is so effective at making Arthur unpleasant that it's hard to imagine him becoming a better person, while Morgan plays Merlin as bemused and a bit cocky and doesn't seem to have much else in his emotional repertoire. As a result, his young wizard frequently seems full of himself, which might be more appropriate for a seasoned magician rather than one just learning the trade. The show's tone veers from lighthearted to dark; some scenes are played for laughs and might be fun for young viewers, while others feature malevolent magic and medieval-style violence that's more appropriate for teens and up.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the legend of King Arthur. How does Merlin differ from other versions of the classic tale? Does the young prince seem like he's ready to become a noble king?
Does Merlin have the potential to become a wise, learned wizard? Merlin has traditionally been portrayed as very old; does it seen strange to see him as a teen? Why do you think the show's producers decided to take this angle on the classic story? Who are they trying to appeal to? Does it work?
For kids who love fantasy
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