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Like the mythology it patches together on the show, Atlantis itself feels like a pastiche of many other fantasy-adventure series, from Xena to Grimm to Doctor Who (Atlantis is even premiering after an encore of the Doctor Who 50th-anniversary special). Created by Merlin‘s Johnny Capps and Julian Murphy, and Misfits‘ Howard Overman, Atlantis is hoping to fill a Merlin-sized (if not a Time Lord-sized) hole in both BBC One and BBC America’s schedules. It will certainly fill viewers minds with misshapen mythology, but does so in a fairly charming, family-friendly way.
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Despite its title, Atlantis has little to do with the Lost City as most have heard of it. Though it does take place there, this Atlantis is a holding cell for characters who bare a passing resemblance — or at the very least share a name — of those from myth and legend (like Hercules and Medusa) and, confoundingly, history (Pythagoras is Hercules’ roommate), all set to a “Generally Middle Eastern” backdrop. Of course, the writers can do what they want with Atlantis since it’s a mythic city, but aside from an overpopulation of monsters, there’s nothing particularly advanced or interesting about this storied civilization.
But nothing stays too close to known stories, anyway. Hero Jason (Jack Donnelly) has yet to meet his Argonauts. He also is apparently from Atlantis, but grew up in present-day Britain, but then returns to Atlantis (and strangely acts like he’s never been away anywhere else). There’s no Golden Fleece, but there are Monsters of the Week, including a minotaur, satyrs and more. The crux of the show is about fulfilling one’s destiny, even for Pythagoras, who is “destined to bore children for the ages.”
Jason is helped along on his quest to fulfill his unknown-but-definitely-heroic destiny by two new friends, the aforementioned Pythagoras (Robert Emms), a brainy but likable chap, and Hercules (Mark Addy) whose traits might easily lead views to mistake him for another Mark Addy character: Game of Thrones‘ fat, drunk ruler of the Seven Kingdoms, Robert Baratheon.
There is also a mysterious Oracle (Juliet Stevenson), a powerful King (Minos, played by Star Trek: Deep Space Nine‘s Alexander Siddig) with a conniving wife (Sarah Parish), along with a beautiful princess (Aiysha Hart) to win Jason’s heart — basically, the stock ingredients of any fantasy-adventure series worth its salt. And it works. The interactions among the three leads are fun, there are pretty women and handsome men, and the supernatural CGI beasts here and there keep things interesting.
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Granted, anyone who knows anything about mythology might find the mishmash of characters and complete retooling of their stories headache-inducing. But for younger viewers, it might potentially spark an interest in finding out the “real” (and even more bizarre) original tales. Or perhaps a curious insistence in class that Medusa (Jemima Rooper) was really just misunderstood.
Atlantis, which has already aired in the U.K. and been picked up for a second season, is by no means to the level of BBC America’s critical breakout Orphan Black, nor is it as engrossing as Doctor Who. But for a Saturday lark of the supernatural variety, viewers could do worse than get lost in Atlantis.
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