You’ve heard the phrase too much of a good thing? Well, that just about sums up ‘Atlantis’, the new programme for the family entertainment slot on Saturday night on Beeb One.
Basically, it looks like Johnny Capps and Julian Murphy, the co-creators of ‘Merlin’ along with Howard Overman, creator of ‘Misfits’ have cottoned onto the fact that little kids have short attention spans and won’t mind watching the same thing over again and so they’ve created a Merlin-a-like programme, only this time it’s set in…fantasy Atlantis, instead of fantasy Dark Age England. It’s like Westworld: Ancient Greece for larpers.
‘Atlantis’ should be called ‘Jason’ as it’s a classic bildungsroman. A young man’s father goes ‘missing’ in a submarine, so he sets out on a literal voyage of discovery to find the truth in his own submarine. He gets whisked away to fantasy Atlantis instead of dying horribly when his sub breaks up…or does he? Personally, I think the only excuse for this episode’s clumsy info dumping of plot is that it’s a pre-death, bends-induced hallucination.
Now, you might be thinking, ‘Hey, it’s aimed at kids, ease up, Ripley, back off the hate throttle, you’re just grinding bile duct.’ Well fine, but they better stop calling this ‘family entertainment’ and bump it down to an earlier time slot than 8:25 pm. I’m a member of a family, it’s aimed at me as well as my kids. I don’t want to know my intellect is being insulted, that’s just plain…insulting. Either put it on earlier, so I don’t have to watch it or put it on later when I’m too drunk to care.
Let me break this bad boy down.
On a boat somewhere in our world (Cardiff?), young Jason mentions he was given a ye olde plot device…er…I mean necklace that looks like bulls horns by his dad, who went missing in a submarine. Jason does this just prior to setting off on his own doomed, undersea mission in his submarine. Question: Where do these people keep getting their submarines from?!
After Jason’s mini-sub breaks up on the way to a bright light (point laboured much?), Jason wakes up, naked on a beach. He has nice abs. Another ingredient in the formula there: hunky young lead, box ticked, move along. Luckily, he’s still wearing his necklace. Phew!. He hails some fishermen, who ignore him, which allows him to steal their clothes.
Now, I know it’s a petty point, but bear with me because it’s illustrative of the lack of care and thought that runs throughout the whole episode. Not once does Jason stop and think, ‘Hmm, these clothes look an awful lot like costume from ‘Hercules’ or ‘Xena: Warrior Princess’. Neither does he nick off with the minimum amount of clearly ancient style garb to hide his fab abs. He takes a matching belt and leather wrist bands. Jason may be a stranger in a strange land, but this boy knows how to co-ordinate…?!
The next scene, he finds the city/capital of Atlantis where he’s inexplicably chased by a two-headed dragon lizard that just happens to be chilling in the fantasy market, (no, me neither). After settling its (their?) hash, he is then randomly chased by guards, who no doubt have to fulfil their daily quota of chasing wannabe princes of Persia through their city. Naturally, he escapes with naught but a manly flesh wound and is saved by none other than Pythagoras or as he is wittily referred to; ‘triangle guy’. Nerdy science guy Pythagoras immediately warms to Jason, for no other reason than he falls off his roof, but that’s not important, it’s all about the bromance. There’s no need or point setting it up with you know, stuff happening to cement the relationship, we know it works, duh. It’s ‘Arthur’ and ‘Merlin’ script flipped.
It turns out Pythagoras’ room mate is none other than Mark Addy playing Robert Baratheon’s comedy twin brother who in this incarnation goes by the name of Hercules. He’s fat, which is funny, apparently.
There are some girls in Atlantis (eeuu cooties!) in typical formulaic roles: Evil Queen, pretty, feisty princess and screamy victim girl. There’s also the Oracle played by Juliet Stevenson, acting her sock off with the thin role of Plot Delivery Device/mother figure or actual mother as is hinted.
One thing in the episode’s favour is that, despite its rubbish demise, the effects for the Minotaur are really good, as is the two-headed, random encounter dragon/ lizard thing. In fact, I have a sneaking suspicion that too much directorial attention was lavished on the FX instead of all that boring character building stuff.
The problem with this episode was, not only was it ‘Merlin’ in Greek kit, but Jason takes too much in his stride. Actually Jason/Merlin/everyboyhero takes *everything* in his stride, from the fact that he speaks ancient fantasy Atlantian or that the fantasy Atlantians speak modern English to the fact he is fated by the gods who, until a few hours ago, he would have regarded as purely mythological beings. The way the episode has been put together doesn’t so much ask for a suspension of disbelief but that you take your disbelief outside and shoot it. I, of course, mean anyone over 7. If you’re younger than that you get a pass and why the hell are you reading this? Go, shoo! Play with your Lego.
The end level boss was the Minotaur, the Minotaur of legend, one of the original big bads. Alas, it goes down with a whimper rather than a roar and also manages to shoehorn a bit more ‘plot’ about mystery daddy and Jason being fated. Alright, enough already! We got it! Sheesh!
The acting is fine, as with ‘Merlin’, the content creators, sorry, writers have used the same mix of drama school grads and old troopers. The sets are good, the extra’s suitably backgroundy, however the execution was clunky.
I know it is only the first episode, but the plot was delivered with all the subtlety and aplomb of an ICBM thrown through your bedroom window, it’s just a bit same old, same old. Hopefully, it will pick up and develop in future episodes.