I have two kids — a 13-year-old daughter and 9-year-old son — and our beloved Friday night tradition of ordering pizza and watching a movie is becoming more and more of a challenge. It’s just not easy to find a film that pleases all four members of a living-room audience with increasingly disparate tastes. And, because we’re not to a point where Pixar releases a new film every weekend, we’ve been turning to TV shows on DVD/Blu-ray for suitable fare. That’s how we came across “Merlin.”
If you don’t know about it already, “Merlin” airs on Friday nights at 10 p.m. on SyFy — there’s a new episode tonight, in fact, and you can watch a clip of it below — and it’s now in its third season here in the States. The show is a U.K. export (it’s in its fourth season on the other side of the pond) and it’s pretty clear it was inspired by the early seasons of “Smallville” as far as setup and tone. Like “Smallville’s” young-and-unproven version of Superman, this show presents a somewhat gangly, sweet-faced and wide-eyed Merlin and an imperious, intense and somewhat ill-tempered Prince Arthur who does not yet possess the worldly wisdom that will make him the once and future king of Camelot.
Like our favorite British show, “Doctor Who,” this sword-and-sorcery series has a brand of family-grade peril and production-value polish that make it accessible to youngsters. At the same time, the writers have cleverly weaved familiar legend with their new young-adult melodrama, and the cast is especially charismatic throughout. One of those interesting actors is Colin Morgan, the Irish thespian who turned 25 on New Year’s Day and portrays the show’s title character, the young warlock who hides his special abilities in a kingdom where magic has been outlawed.
I talked to Morgan recently by phone — he was on the set and feeling pretty relaxed after his holiday break — and he said he and the rest of the cast are enthused by signs of percolating interest in the show in the States. “Little did we know that we’d be here, early in 2011, starting in on our fourth [season] in the U.K. and our third in the U.S. and finding an audience that really seems excited about the show. It’s a busy year ahead and I couldn’t be happier about that.” The Jan. 7 third-season premiere on SyFy pulled in 1.3 million viewers, which is above the show’s 2010 average but shows that the series, like its characters, has a lot of growing up to do before it reaches a truly magical status.
I told Morgan that he had a cross-generational appeal in my household, at least, and he chuckled. “I’m pleased to say we hear that quite a lot. The average fan of ‘Merlin’ is hard to describe because the people that come up to me and say they love the show are really quite varied and all ages. I do think it’s nice that the show is something families can watch together, that there’s a dramatic element to it and action but also humor and even some slapstick in some episodes. I’ve been quite pleased with the way my character has grown and I think it’s all getting more interesting as we go along. This isn’t the powerful and older Merlin, this is Merlin in his beginnings; it’s a growing-up story and you see glimpses of the man he will be — and you see glimpses of the man Arthur will be — but Merlin is seen as a servant by everybody and it’s satisfying, I think, for the viewer to know where this story and this life lead. That’s the fun part. That’s the adventure for us too.”
— Geoff Boucher
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