Merlin -- TV Review

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Every culture has a hero legend they repeat over and over. Here in the U.S., we keep remaking Superman for a reason, but in England the Brits love their Camelot stories. And often, those tales translate well across the pond. Witness the success of Broadway's "Spamalot."

So perhaps sensing the imminence of the next "Harry Potter" film release, NBC took a shine to the 13-part costume drama "Merlin," which aired last year on the BBC (a second season is in the works). It revolves around the future King Arthur's trusty sorcerer, upending nearly every convention of Arthurian legend in the process: King Uther lives in Camelot and oversees his callow young son's development; magic has been banned from the kingdom; and the last remaining dragon is chained up in a cave under the castle. Arthurian experts need not attend: This is just going to hurt your eyes.

But for those new to the legend, this is a fresh, and delightfully color-blind, approach to the tale. Merlin is a sweet-natured but clumsy youth who is trying to be charming but whose headstrong ways repeatedly get him into trouble. He meets cute with the future king (that is, they nearly kill one another) and ultimately ingratiates himself by ... well, if you saw NBC's "Kings," you'll know exactly how the outsider gets in good with the supreme ruler. In addition, Merlin -- who chafes at learning from the dragon that his irrevocable destiny is to play second banana to the prince -- has a secret. He can move objects with his mind and so has to hide his superpowers from others.

If some of this sounds familiar, it is. Replace "Camelot" with "Smallville," and you've got the general ambition and scope of this teen-friendly series. The sets are lush and realistic, the CGI effective and well used. There's plenty of swordplay mixed in with adolescent angst, many long, flowing costumes (though the cognitive dissonance of Morgana's bare shouldered ensembles is jarring) and a wholesome message of fair play running throughout.

How this ever made it on to American primetime I'll never understand, but maybe that's just one of Merlin's magical mysteries. We should all be so enchanted.

Airdate: 8-9 p.m. Sunday, June 21 (NBC)
Production: Shine Ltd.
Cast: Colin Morgan, John Hurt, Anthony Head, Katie McGrath, Eve Myles, Richard Wilson, Caroline Faber, Gary Oliver, Bradley James, Ed Coleman, Angel Coulby, Louise Dylan
Executive producers: Julian Murphy, Johnny Capps, Jake Michie, Julian Jones
Creator-writers: Julian Jones, Howard Overman
Producer: Sue de Beauvoir
Director: James Hawes
Director of photography: Geoffrey Wharton
Production designer: Stevie Herbert
Costume designer: Charlotte Morris
Casting: Jill Trevellick