It's tempting to give NBC credit for putting a family friendly series like "Merlin" on the air, but the network wasn't acting out of any generosity toward families. NBC announced this British import a year ago when it went on a buying spree of low-cost co-productions. And the saying is true: You get what you pay for.
"Merlin" looks, well, typically British with shoddy production values. Worse, it tells dull stories.
This version of the Arthurian legend is an origins story (think: "Smallville"), but NBC is most interested in positioning it as a TV version of the Harry Potter saga as a young Merlin (Colin Morgan) comes of age. But the Potter films offer exciting tales with well-drawn characters. "Merlin" demonstrates less skill at character building than the syndicated "Legend of the Seeker."
Starring: Colin Morgan (on cover), Anthony Head.
Tonight's two-hour premiere (at 8, WPXI) begins as Merlin arrives in Camelot just as mean King Uther (Anthony Head, "Buffy the Vampire Slayer") has a man beheaded for using magic. Merlin, who was born with the ability to perform sorcery, has been sent by his mother to be mentored by court physician Gaius (Richard Wilson).
Before long, he's getting into fights with the king's obnoxious son, Prince Arthur (Bradley James). As much as Merlin dislikes the heir apparent, a dragon (voice of John Hurt) that's kept in a cave under the castle says Arthur will become the king who "unites the land." Merlin must learn to play nice.
After a sorceress puts the entire court to sleep with her magical singing -- "Merlin" may have the same effect on you -- the boy wizard saves the day, and the king appoints him to be Arthur's servant. In the second hour tonight, Merlin fights against cheesy computer-generated snakes.
Uh-oh, it's not magic.
Contact TV editor Rob Owen at email@example.com or 412-263-1112. Read the Tuned In Journal blog at post-gazette.com/tv. First Published June 21, 2009 4:00 AM