Rather than portray the wizard Merlin as a wise and ancient practitioner of sorcery and enchantment, BBC creates a series around a young and naïve Merlin who arrives at Camelot knowing little of the world and even less about his gift of magic. BBC’s Merlin takes watchers back to the beginning of Merlin and King Arthur’s relationship, a bond that begins in Merlin’s days as King Arthur’s manservant in the kingdom of Camelot, and a friendship most unlikely due to class and personality clashes.
Merlin plays a lot on the quirks of the characters and produces a humorously light mood, despite the characters’ constant dilemmas, whether that be stopping ancient priestesses from poisoning Arthur, curing strange medieval disease epidemics, or watching the corruption of their closest friends and family. Merlin has an endearing mix of under-appreciated brilliance, conscientiousness, pride, and awkwardness that makes him relatable, yet still believably part of a legend. Despite Merlin’s residence in the Pendragon home, there is a war on magic, a war waged by King Uther Pendragon to rid the land of the magic that took his wife and Arthur’s mother from him.
Arthur, trying his best to fulfill his future role as king, keeps that battle raging by upholding the law. However, there is a strain of mercy and compassion to Arthur’s justice that is not in Uther’s. Little does Arthur know, his closest companion is a student of criminal magic, which is a constant issue for Merlin, who must cover his gift that he uses quite often to save Camelot and Arthur, all the while wanting to serve Arthur honorably. The plot of the show is greatly, though not solely, driven by the push and pull of the kingdom’s law and the use of magic.
Traditional characters entangled in this tale, such as Guinevere, Morgana, and Mordred, are also woven into BBC’s modified Arthurian Legend, with one addition, Gaius, who acts as Merlin’s mentor. For the most part, their roles follow closely to the tales, but changes are made to suit a modern audience. Actors and actresses playing these long-known figures include Colin Morgan, Bradley James, Angel Coulby, Katie McGrath, Richard Wilson, John Hurt, and Anthony Head among others.
The fantasy drama is definitely family-friendly. All 5 seasons are currently on Netflix, and each episode is roughly 50 minutes.
Why it’s worth the binge: Fresh look at Arthurian Legend, comedic yet sincere relationships between the most unlikely of people, coming of age fantasy, encouragement to build character and act honorably
– Kelly Gatewood
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