Time to look back at the latest iteration of Merlin and Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, known as Atlantis. A hotchpotch of Greek myth, Greek history and Minoan culture combined with whatever else the writers feel like nicking from two thousand years of pre-BC Mediterranean cultures, it’s essentially a boy’s own tale – girls are barely welcome here and those that get a look in are either passive (Ariadne) or evil/soon-to-be-evil (Pasiphaë, Medusa) – in which Jason (maybe of the Argonauts) travels back from the modern day to have have exciting adventures on the not-yet-flooded island of Atlantis with Pythagoras (yes, that one) and Hercules (not the hero he was made out to be).
After a first episode that was as flabby in the middle as Hercules but still reasonably good fun, things have slowly declined. Promises of an ongoing storyline have pretty much disappeared in favour of ‘guest myth of the week’, given the baddies v goodies make-over you’d expect of the creators of Merlin. Episode two saw our heroes facing off against Dionysos’ now-evil witch-like Maenads – and you could write epic essays on the gender politics that particular twist evokes – while episode three took the bull-leaping of Minoan frescoes and then gave it all a somewhat daft twist involving sacrifices and Pasiphaë revealed as being an evil witch, too (again, another, briefer essay in the making there).
Trouble is, none of this is very well handled. With no truth depth or gods and with everything effectively squelched through Merlin‘s medieval Christian view of the world, the stories feel bereft of all the qualities that make Greek literature interesting. Jason’s may be buff and able to fight, but he’s a dull cipher, particularly now no one seems particularly interested in finding out where his dad is any more. Jemima Rooper’s Medusa, reduced from a mythic priestess to a volunteer maid in Atlantis, has little to do but be a friend to the heroes. Hercules and Pythagoras are there for laughs and provide obstacles for Jason to overcome. Potential love interest Ariadne is just that and nothing else.
Atlantis is an action show that’s good at action, filmed in some lovely parts of Morocco that look nothing like anything Greek or Cretan. But it has a largely limp young cast and nothing to make it anything more than Merlin in some pop culture version of Greece. I dare say towards the end of the series they’ll amp up the revelations and tie back into the series arc, but at the moment, it’s a pretty thankless, episodic show that drags and offers no one truly to engage the viewer.
Barrometer rating: 3 (trending downwards)
Rob’s prediction: Will probably run and run but doesn’t deserve to