Resident reviewer, Ben McCarthy gives us his take on BBC One’s Atlantis, and explains that – like the mythical city – the show itself may also be sinking…
A setting filled with magic and wonder; a young man who discovers he has an extraordinary destiny ahead of him; famous actors popping up now and again to sprout exposition, and of course… the hilarious sidekicks. Yes, Merlin really was rather clichéd, wasn’t it? That didn’t stop me loving the show, pretty much right from the beginning. Sure, it had its issues, and its final episode did not make up for a rather disappointing final series, but I still tuned in and remain a big fan. Alas, Merlin is no more. In its place, made by the same folks who made Merlin no less, is Atlantis.
The premise is pretty much the same as Merlin’s – except this time we have Jason (Jack Donnelly), a lad from the future who’s turned up in Atlantis looking for his father. When he gets there, a hilariously over acting Juliet Stevenson tells him he’s all important, etc. Cue him picking up some quirky sidekicks to go on many adventures, encountering Minotaurs and the like, all the while being closely watched by the evil Pasiphae (Sarah Parish) and generic love interest, Ariadne.
As you may have gathered, thus far, I’m not really a fan. It’s not like the show is terrible or anything. It can easily pass for Saturday night family entertainment, and at least thought has obviously gone into it (unlike that other popular Saturday show over on ITV1) but, as with Merlin, it could just be so much better.
Firstly, there really isn’t anything here you haven’t seen before. Ideas are either cut and pasted from Merlin or from other sources entirely. One of the main weaknesses of Merlin was that its comedy element at times got very silly very quickly – to the detriment of the overall story. The same is true of Atlantis. While Mark Addy’s Hercules is pretty funny, the darker aspects you really want to see, such as Jason’s search for his father, constantly seem to take a back seat to the more juvenile stuff. I mean, were they really so sapped of ideas that they had to resort to Three Men and a Baby gags in episode 3?
The characters do the show no favours either. Jason’s backstory is constantly hinted at, yet none of it is ever explored. Barley any scenes after the first episode have shown his reaction to being out of time, or even away from home. Does he have family or friends that he misses? What about the fact that he has actually travelled far into the past, to a place that he knows eventually gets swallowed by the sea? The whole time travel element just seems to have been completely forgotten about. Worse still, Jason’s characterisation is all over the damn place! One minute he’s an ordinary guy. The next, he’s got awesome fighting skills, can perform incredible acrobatics and is, basically, a superhero. How is this suddenly possible? It just is. Basically, here we have two massive character traits that are screaming out for attention, and both have been ignored thus far. When you can’t even make your mind up about your main character, the show is not in good health.
The rest of them are…okay. Mark Addy practically carries the show, effortlessly stealing every scene he is in. In fact, if the show was entirely about him I do think it would be all the better for it. Robert Emms’ Pythagoras plays off nicely with Addy, but otherwise, it is quite a forgettable part. Special praise, however, goes to Jemima Rooper, whose romantic sub-plot with Hercules, while obviously going down a very Morgana from Merlin route, is a highlight of the piece. A show about these two could easily work. Possibly better than the show that’s on.
In all, Atlantis is nothing special. Indeed, it’s practically identical to Merlin in most respects, while half-arsing its intriguing differences, such as the time travel plot. While Mark Addy is brilliant, the rest of the cast range from bland, to okay, and sadly, Donnelly falls into the bland category (although, to be fair to him, the character himself is pretty bland). It’s not all bad but it’s just not that good either. However, there are plenty of ingredients littered about to improve the show. With that in mind, maybe it’s worth sticking with for now.