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RUNNING TIME: 578 minutes
- Cast and Crew Commentaries
- Cast and Crew Interviews
- Making of
What if Arthur and Merlin were secret lovers? The kind of lovers that needed a safety word. Also, sometimes magic and dragons and shit.
Colin Morgan, Bradley James, Angel Coulby, Anthony Head, Richard Wilson, the guy who collects John Hurts paychecks
Amazon describes Merlin as “Arthurian legend meets Beverly Hills 90210“. That description might be the key to unlocking hell, but it’s also pretty apt. On the surface, Merlin is just a really crappy fantasy show like a million other really crappy fantasy shows. But under that surface lies the reason that people actually watch this crappy fantasy show. Fan pandering by way of fetishistic dude love. And if I remember 90210 right, fetishism and fan pandering were key features.
Merlin must have some killer slash fic out there. It is a homoerotic gold mine, the likes of which I have not seen since I judged that mustache rubbing contest. This show is about magic and not having a shirt. And hugging. I know it’s about magic, because sometimes people look really intently at something and wave their hands about. That’s magic. And magic is cool in theory, but mostly it looks like shit here. Or, possibly, people are taking a shit and I am interpreting it as them casting some sort spell. The looks on their faces could go either way. That’s the magic in Merlin, or the BMs in Merlin. But really, the magic is secondary to the glorious shirtless glances of Arthur towards his manservant Merlin. Arthur likes to be surprised without his shirt on. Or he just summons Merlin into bedroom late at night, and then he can have a reason to be shirtless. And they hug a bunch. It’s hardly worth mentioning the female leads, because the show forgets about them for the majority of the episodes. I think that’s because, behind it all, Merlin is a story about male love developed through dependency. One of the creators is living out some sort of fantasy, I’d almost bet on it. But then again, maybe I’m reading into nothing. Possibly. The show sucks a whole lot and I like to entertain myself. That stuff could just be the one thing they tried to keep period, because people didn’t like shirts back then, or something. In a show full of anachronisms, why not just keep the whole nudity thing? Oh, and keep the indentured servitude that borders on dry humping. They had that then too. Right?
Merlin is a giant, full-on sadist and Arthur is his gimp. It’s not even subtext. This is slash fic 101. There is not a single episode where Merlin isn’t put into place by, an often shirtless, Arthur and then forced to do humiliating labor. And Merlin fucking lives for it. His eyes widen with joy when he gets a scolding from Arthur. His creepy, giant happy eyes. For his part, Arthur, who is almost always standing on something obvious in the scenery so he can literally lord over Merlin, stands high and berates his servant with a smug smile and strangely longing eyes. This dynamic is everywhere, in everything. The show will stop dead so Arthur can get really angry, even though his eyes say he wants to go crotch exploring, and stop Merlin from doing something that will help the kingdom. And then Merlin smiles and does it anyway, because he is magic and he loves that guy. I’m sure it’s all just a misguided attempt to appeal to ugly woman. But still, out there exists fiction that people spent months of their life on. They sit in their really, really odd smelling basements and rack their brains to find a way for Uncle Joey and Uncle Jessie to find true love, and express that pure love with candle wax and electric cock rings. These mustached and sweater wearing individuals work their asses off to fantasize about television characters engaged in their own extreme and, often times, painful fetishes. And then Merlin comes along and just makes it look so damn easy.
But it’s not all awkward love with sweaty hugs, Merlin has a shitty story to tell too. Problem is, by focusing on making a small, creepy sect of the internet happy, the producers of Merlin have lost sight of being relevant. Merlin is BBC’s answer to American syndicated programing, circa 1997. It’s a British Xena, so at least the accents are consistent and they’re actually using their own cultures and legends as a basis for a c-level action show aimed at horny people. It’s a very thin piece of those legends though. What I know about the Arthur story I learned from Excalibur and King Arthur & the Knights of Justice for the SNES, so I’m an expert. Merlin doesn’t have magic sex armor or footballs. It’s not even close to the real made up thing. The names of some people and places are the only connection to the story as you know it. They actually took out the momentum built into the myth in order to focus on building sadomasochistic relationships. They do add a talking dragon, though. Which is pretty cool. Even better, it’s voiced by John Hurt, because England is a tiny island nation. But then British people go and drop the ball by giving us Anthony Stewart Head instead of Gabriel Byrne. Although, to be fair, an honest mistake. Then they just round out the cast with young people who look good with torn clothes. It’s a very American way of casting a British show.
It wouldn’t be pointless television without shitty scripts, and luckily Merlin is ready with some of awesomely bland genre dreck. The best part is, Merlin is made for lazy story telling. The story has a built in deus ex machina with a character who can use magic to get out of seemingly any situation. The rules, as far as I saw in season 2, are never established. They address this a little, mostly with the outlawing of magic in Camelot. So sometimes Merlin has to save the day using magic, and then he has to use magic to cover his magic using tracks. You’ve seen it countless times before, and better. Darren will get angry if the neighbors find out you’re a witch.
In a bad writer’s hands, magical devices are the very definition of lazy storytelling. And Merlin leans on magic. It naps on it. For forty eight minutes Merlin is exactly what you think it is. Which isn’t to say it isn’t ever entertaining, because sometimes this formula works. Well okay, works isn’t the right word. Sometimes you’re tired, drunk, or whatever and you just want to relax and watch something that isn’t very taxing. And if you’re tired, drunk, or whatever and your interests include anachronistic medieval settings, a lot of implied sadomasochism, and a healthy amount of waving hand gestures and half latin, then this might be exactly what you were looking for. Personally, when I’m tired, drunk, or whatever I watch Fawlty Towers and totally get the jokes. But then again, I’m not British, I just wish I was .
I once turned a very large Welsh man into a very large Welsh man who throws chairs by calling him British, so my complete and sincerest apologies if Merlin is actually a production of BBC Bumfuck, or BBC Wales, or whatever it’s called. Great Britain and the incestuous relationships it has with the countries around it confuses me.
Maybe I’m harboring feelings from the revolutionary war. Maybe I don’t like the show because it annoys the fuck out of me. Whatever the reason, I’m being really harsh on a show that isn’t trying to do anything too crazy. Sure, it has horrible special effects. But it’s British, they all love crappy special effects. It might have nothing to do with Arthur and the legends as we know it, but Americans don’t give a shit about about some old story and everything is better with hot people. I will even admit, the obvious gay subtext is fucking awesome, and alleviate some of the more boring parts. But that isn’t enough to hold my attention anymore, not post-Twilight. Other than that, it has enough anachronisms to write a Frank Miller story, tired plotting, and actors who are possibly trying their hardest to act. Not how I like spending my time. But then again, I could easily write two novels worth of slash fic from my short time with the show, so I got that. Maybe that is worth something to creepy people and people with awkward tastes.
It has commentaries. Seven of them. And it is my duty as a reviewer to watch them all. But I didn’t. Because, fuck that. I did listen to a little bit of them, for reference and not to be a total lazy bastard. And yeah, fuck that. If you’re wondering how people involved with something so mediocre live with themselves, save yourself the torture and just pick up a Chris Martin biography. It has some other little fluffy interviews in which Giles is kinda funny, so you might watch that if you have ten minutes to spare and a really crappy life.
Out of a Possible 5 Stars