Then, in my poking around on Netflix, looking for something to watch while stuck under a nursing baby, I happened upon a BBC show from about ten years ago, called Merlin. And, wouldn't you know it, this show features a similarly moving relationship between the titular character and Aurthur of Camelot. There's also a lot of teasing and silliness, but it all ends up in friendship.
Now, The Lord of the Rings is profound for lots of other reasons besides its portrayal of friendship, and Tolkien's writing is brilliant and complex. I would not describe the writing on Merlin using either of those terms, but it is fun and entertaining.
It somehow manages to be The Lord of the Rings meets Doctor Who. It has the heart and Truth, deep down, of The Lord of the Rings but the lighthearted wackiness and (somewhat cheesy) monster-heavy special effects of Doctor Who.
My favorite things about the show . . .
1. Merlin is chock full of self-sacrifice and virtue among its characters. Merlin is a servant willing to die for his master and friend. Aurthur is a leader willing to die for his kingdom and people. Gaius is a model example of a foster father. The knights are selfless and daring and good. Guinevere is brave and loyal (when she's not under a magic spell, but she's under a magic spell a LOT).
2. The heroes don't flip-flop. Characters develop, and some do start out as friends and become foes, but it's a story arc, and you have the sense that it's coming. The GOOD guys, however, struggle and question, and they sometimes fail, but they don't just become bad guys for a while, or turn out to have been bad guys all along. I really hate that. And I think it's unnecessarily confusing for kids.
3. Speaking of kids, this is truly a family show. There is no sexual content in the show. Even characters who get married don't ever have a big SCENE. There's some awkwardness between a troll and a main character (more on that later) and one of the knights is shown putting his shirt on in his room with a young lady present, so we can figure what must have happened. But that's absolutely as bad as it gets.
4. It's all been made. It's five seasons, which is enough but not too much, and it's finished, so you can't get invested in it then have them spring something problematic on you.
Good guys are good, bad guys are bad, a little romance, a lot of swashbuckling, a lot of magic, no gore, no language, no sex. It's fun for the whole family.
BUT. I should probably warn you . . .
1. There is a TON of male shirtlessness in this show. I don't personally imagine the king of Camelot sleeping shirtless. But this one does. There's an episode in which the knights are captured and made to work in some snow mines where it's so cold, you can see their breath. And they are shirtless the whole time. One of the knights, Percival, wears cut off chain mail, which should no more be a thing than bikini armor. It just really defeats the POINT of chain mail, if it has no sleeves. Most awkward of all, there's a running gag about Aurthur's pants falling down.
2. It can be kind of intense. There is one REALLY SCARY episode in season five (The Dark Tower). There are intense battle scenes. Characters we love die. It might all be too much for sensitive kids.
3. The writing is a bit formulaic. Basically, most episodes are: A trusted person within the court wants to kill the king. Merlin and Gaius know but can't tell Aurthur because, reasons. The murderous person cannot, say, just STAB the king because, reasons. So, there's an elaborate plot that involves going on a quest or fighting a magical beast of some sort. All poisons take about three days to kill you, to give you time for the questing.
4. Many of the episodes are very earnest and very touching. . . . And some seem like they must have been written by a nine year old boy because they are almost completely about farting. I really did not like those episodes, and felt extraordinarily embarrassed for all of the actors while watching them. I'd recommend skipping them entirely, except they do advance the plot. Fortunately, there are only a handful, mostly in season two.
Overall, I enjoyed and recommend it. If you like fantasy and don't mind some camp to go with it, and you're not TOO worried about whether some knights might catch a cold, perhaps Merlin is for you. And if you're looking for something to watch with the kids, this could fit the bill. I plan to watch it through again sometime with my kids, probably the seven and ups.
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And that's my honest opinion. But this is a sponsored post.
What are we missing out on? What are YOUR favorite whole-family shows?