Saturday, 28 September 2013

Review: Atlantis 1.1: The Earth Bull

I'm beginning to wonder if all this "Saturday Teatime Drama" business is particularly worth it any more. Steven Moffat's "cool" scheduling has done its best to remove the genre's arguable originator from its lofty position, and historical series trying to match that position have all been fundamentally flawed. A year after the horrendously misguided Merlin ended its five-year run, two of its producers and one of its better writers have come together again to mangle Greek myth, what with the entire mythological history of the British Isles having been totally and completely mined out.
     The premiere began by giving me hope, setting us up in the present day with Jason (Jack Donelly) going underwater to find the remains of his father's expedition. We were then placed firmly in Merlin's "just go with it" methodology as we were expected to hold our suspension of disbelief as our Jason was dragged through a time-portal into Ancient Atlantis, which was apparently occupied by Caucasian or slightly-Asian-looking people who all spoke perfect English in a variety of regional accents. Amongst the misplaced historical celebrities to be found in the cast are Pythagoras (Robert Emms, War Horse), Hercules (Mark Addy, Game of Thrones) King Minos (Alexander Siddig, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine) and his daughter Ariadne (Aiysha Hart).
     The episode rips its plot from Theseus and the Minotaur, wiping our poor old Theseus from the mythological timeline and replacing him step-by-bloody-step with Jason, who doesn't seem to question the odd world around him. The plot itself was a fairly standard adventure affair, with a few attempts here or there to hint at some overshadowing mysteries which couldn't be more obvious if they tried. (Such as the fact that Minos is most definitely Jason's father, and the Oracle his mother.) What bugged me the most about the whole affair was how quickly our premise was delivered. It was so haphazard and silly that it hardly got a chance to breathe before our valient heroes were off re-writing the bloody Plutarch.
     I may be expecting too much of a premiere, but what felt very lacking was any actual characterisation beyond the same archetypes that allowed Merlin to rattle on without doing anything for a good three seasons. We have our dashing hero who is the son of the King (in my predictions at least), assisted by a vaguely nerdy dude and an old mentor, guided by a mysterious magical being and who must use his skills to fight mythological beings. The only difference is that the Arthur/Merlin dynamic of master/servant and the mystery provided by the Fascade are instead replaced by Jason being just wonderful and brave and having no real character flaws at all.
Let me guess, the obvious love interest is the obvious
love interest. From The BBC
     Most of all, I think one of my biggest pet peeves with the episode is its lack of self-awareness. Great mythological background or no, Jason is still a 21st Century guy - that's supposed to be used in order to allow the audience to identify with him as he journeys into this strange new world. He should know what's going on, have some vague knowledge of the myths he's re-enacting. Yet the only references made to the fact that he's from the future come very early on, are used for cheap jokes about how maths is boring and fat people are funny, and then are thrown completely aside for useless heroic daring do.
     I missed Merlin over this gap, you know, if only because it's so rarely that I get something so genuinely disappointing week after week. It makes the good episodes better and the worse episodes more tolerable, something that Atlantis seems to have mastered far more quickly than its Arthurian brother. At the present rate I do wonder if Atlantis is really what anyone needs at the moment, and whether it's even possible with its loose set-up for it to match the few highs that Merlin actually managed to reach, but it certainly wasn't a boring 45 minutes and I'd much rather have something to complain about for 13 weeks than be left without.


NEXT WEEK: A girl named Medusa... I certainly hope they're not going to try re-enacting how she got her snakes. (Look it up.) It's A Girl By Any Other Name.

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