Okay, there are some worthy exceptions. And, yes, some people prefer their entertainment to be mere, wasteful escapism never to be thought about again (though I’d argue a two-hour movie suits that purpose better).
But I didn’t come here to rant. Instead, I’ll talk about one positive my kids and I have discovered: BBC’s Merlin. Season 5 premiers this Saturday over in merry England and will air in the U.S. on SyFy starting in January 2013, though you may be able to view it online somewhere as it airs across the Pond. Seasons 1-4 are available online (free and clear or hacked) or via Netflix, I believe. I highly recommend the series.
Merlin is a re-telling of the famous hodge-podge of Arthurian legends through the titular warlock’s point of view. Rather than an older, father-type figure, this series portrays Merlin as a contemporary of Arthur's, perhaps slightly younger than the iconic king, who begins the series as a prince and remains as such through most of the first four seasons. I think that both fans of Camelot and newcomers will enjoy this fresh, stimulating, and family-friendly adventure yarn.
|There be dragons in this one.|
|Much ridiculed in other circles, I'm sure, the love and loyalty between|
Arthur and Merlin is of the John 15:13 type. Not only does it drive the show,
it is much the better off for it.
To be sure, many standard tropes are present. Way too many times Merlin uses magic to save Arthur’s life unbeknownst to anyone. Merlin and the heroes have more than one opportunity to kill Morgana but, in true Hollywood fashion, fail to “pull the trigger” only to face a new evil plot. Camelot is taken over by the enemy (we may agree a rather climactic and epic event) not once, but twice. And Camelot’s dungeons have got to be the easiest to break free from in all of medieval history. Merlin’s strengths more than cover its foibles. As a family friendly show, it is never gratuitous or disturbing – if that is what you want, there is always HBO, Showtime, STARZ, and AMC (plus, the major American networks aren’t far behind). Yet it can still be dark and gritty, creating tension and dilemmas that challenge the characters and their beliefs with decisions of profound and meaningful consequence. For the audience, it raises questions about justice, peace, honor, commitment, loyalty, and servanthood. Most importantly, it asks at what lengths those ideals can be realized and at what costs they are achieved. That is, after all, the timeless message for which Arthur and Camelot stand.