CliqueClack TV

What’s this show called … Camelot?

Each week I review a show that's new to me. Good idea, or punishment (mine or yours)? You be the judge. But either way, if I had to watch it, the least you can do is read what I have to say....

I’ve been known to be a fan of period pieces as done by the premium cable channels. HBO does it best: Boardwalk Empire is perfect, while Rome was one of the most interesting stories I’ve ever seen. Plus it introduced me to Kevin McKidd! That said, John Adams? How did no one ever talk about how slanted the floors must have been back in those days?

Over on Showtime there was The Tudors. A big fan for the first two seasons, I quickly lost interest around the time that the series learned its days were numbered and the quality started slipping. Nevertheless, Jonathan Rhys Meyers was amazing, and I was glad that Callum Blue (Dead Like Me) had found a place to land.

Anyway, it was my interest in history, coupled with premium cable’s solid track record, that caused Starz’s Camelot to initially catch my eye. So why did I let the premiere pass me by? I’m not really sure … but I decided to see what I’ve been missing.

The basic story of Camelot, i.e. King Arthur’s days as king, is fairly well known. Knights of the Round Table, Queen Guinevere and Sir Lancelot, Merlin … most of us are up on the broad strokes. Would that enhance or detract from the experience?

I caught episode seven, “The Long Night,” which took place in Morgan’s (Eva Green) castle, Pendragon. I loved the parts of the episode that focused on Arthur (Jamie Campbell Bower) and his boys. The King is a bit too naive, but Merlin is Joseph Fiennes at his best — 100 times better than Fiennes in FlashForward — while Gawain (Clive Standen), Leontes (Philip Winchester), Kay (Peter Mooney), et al, reminded me of some of the best parts of The Tudors: Henry hanging out with his friends, trying to find his feet as a leader.

In fact, Camelot mixes the best parts of shows like Rome and The Tudors with the worst. Rome was never better than when Lucius (McKidd) and Titus (Ray Stevenson) were getting into trouble, while The Tudors did its best when Henry tried to make his mark on the world, at times making peace and others war with Spain and France. And much of the blatant sexual nature of Camelot reminded me of Mark Antony (James Purefoy) and Cleopatra’s (Lyndsey Marshal) time together. Man do I miss Rome.

But where I found Camelot to be less interesting was when it slipped into scheming — and romance — mode. I understand that these shows won’t succeed without 1) intrigue, and 2) couplings, but what I love about tales of Arthur is in books like King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table, by Roger Lancelyn Green, as opposed to things you can get on your basic soap opera. Arthur shines with tales of adventure and bravery … I even find the sorcery of Merlin to be a bit too much for me. So palace intrigue is really one of the last things I’m looking for from the great king.

By the way, not to repeat myself but Fiennes is really great here. It’s the finest work I’ve ever seen him do, and for the most part he stuck to being exactly the consigliere that I think he’s meant to be, as opposed to some magical being. As an aside, his relationship with Queen Igraine (Claire Forlani, who’s also great here) is exactly why Merlin and Arthur can’t be contemporaries as suggested by some other versions of their story.

Anyway, I’m glad I checked Camelot out, but I found it to be too much like The Tudors at the time that I decided to quit the latter show. If the creative team decides to focus more on the boys, I’d probably be back. But with Morgan using sorcery to make herself look like her mother — what’s with the nun? — the show’s not for me. But for those who are watching, I hope you’re enjoying!

Photo Credit: Starz

5 Responses to “What’s this show called … Camelot?”

May 18, 2011 at 5:49 PM

I kind of agree with you. I’m watching this show mostly because I’m a sucker for all things Arthurian, but Fiennes as Merlin is a fascinating character, sneaky and impossible to peg as a hero or villain. I would watch it just for him.

One of my primary problems with the show is that this Arthur possesses no charisma or strength of character – his knights outshine him. Also, the show plants some modern sensibilities and values into the story, which simply do not blend in. For example, in this and the previous episode, they’ve shown Arthur espousing some ideas about women’s rights, and at the same time here is a guy who basically took the throne from his sister, who is older and therefore could be considered the legitimate heir (leaving aside the fact that she murdered Uther, since Arthur doesn’t know that).

May 18, 2011 at 6:05 PM

Yeah, it was funny when Guinevere insisted on joining in the fight and Arthur said “Everyone should choose for themselves.” Because I’m sure that was exactly the sensibility back then!

How do you find Merlin does creating the wise advisor relationship between Merlin and Arthur when Merlin’s like a kid brother running around the castle?

May 18, 2011 at 6:58 PM

Merlin has actually done an excellent job of showing Merlin gradually gain confidence in himself so that during the last season the “wise counselor” aspect of his character emerged in a very natural, believable way. He’s never been like a kid brother to Arthur. They have a classic “master and man” relationship (think Jeeves and Wooster, Sam and Frodo, etc.). Throughout the first two seasons, Merlin saved Camelot, Arthur, Uther, pretty much everyone countless times, and he’s had many conversations with the “Great Dragon,” who tells him about his destiny to help Arthur become a great king. There was a pivotal moment when Merlin discovered his power as a Dragonlord to command the Great Dragon, and so when he subsequently began to counsel Arthur at different points in season 3, it felt like a completely natural progression. (On a parallel course, we’ve seen Arthur gradually gain greater respect for Merlin – but he still doesn’t know 99% of what Merlin has done and is capable of, so he still sometimes treats Merlin with condescension.) That’s a long answer… that’s what you get for asking me about Merlin.

May 18, 2011 at 8:18 PM

I knew exactly what — and who — I was asking. ;)

Incidentally, Merlin lost me at talking dragon, but my wife still watches it.

August 28, 2011 at 4:13 AM

This starts tonight here is Aus on ch9! What are we in for? Any good? I’m going to give it a go and I’ll report back..

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