Stuck at home? Now is a great time to watch the BBC’s ‘Merlin’ series

When The Story Geeks chose “hidden gems” on streaming services as the topic for this week’s podcast, I knew right away what I wanted my companion blog article to be about.

One of my all-time favorite TV shows is the BBC’s “Merlin” series (2008-2012), and I don’t hear nearly enough people talking about how delightful this show is.

I know there are many adaptations of the legends surrounding King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, so what exactly makes this one so special? Well, this show is available right now on Netflix and other streaming services, so if you’re stuck at home and looking for something to watch, now is the perfect time to find out.

What makes the BBC ‘Merlin’ series different?

This show deviates some from the traditional retellings of the Arthurian myth, but that’s actually what makes it interesting. The famous wizard Merlin is the main character of the series (but you probably guessed that, based on the title). However, at the start of the series, he is far from an accomplished sorcerer — Merlin is actually still a young boy who has to hide his magical abilities since the use of magic is forbidden in the kingdom of Camelot.

Arthur is not yet king; that title still belongs to his father, Uther Pendragon. Uther isn’t necessarily a villain, but his hatred for magic makes life very difficult for Merlin. He takes secret lessons in magic from his mentor, Gaius, while working in the castle as a servant to Arthur.

Another interesting twist is that when we first meet him, Arthur actually isn’t the most likable character. He’s arrogant and entitled, and we totally empathize with Merlin’s irritation towards him. But one of my favorite parts of this show is watching Arthur and Merlin’s bickering evolve into a deep and heartfelt friendship (though their entertaining banter still continues).

Arthur becomes a better man than his father, thanks to the influence of Merlin and Guinevere, who is also a servant in the castle. Arthur and Guinevere’s romance teaches the young prince about the injustices in the kingdom of Camelot and the inequalities that exist between classes.

Now, fair warning — this show does have some cheesy moments, particularly in the first season. This doesn’t bother me, because I loved the characters so much that I didn’t mind giving the show some time to find its footing.

So I’d encourage you, if you’re not fully connecting with the story right away but you still like the characters, definitely hang in there, because when this show gets good, it’s really good.

The complex characters of ‘Merlin’

It would take a long time to delve into all the characters on this show, but I love how nuanced they all become, with plenty of sympathetic villains and flawed heroes. Although the show’s tone is often more lighthearted (especially in the earlier seasons), it still has depth.

And speaking of flawed heroes…this is actually the only version of the King Arthur story I can think of where I liked the character of Lancelot. I’ve never been a fan of the famously ill-fated love triangle between Arthur, Guinevere, and Lancelot, a Knight of the Round Table.

I don’t want to delve into spoiler territory here, but I will say that “Merlin” is able to handle this plot point in an incredibly complex and emotional way. I really can’t say more, but the version of Lancelot in this show is so much better than any other version I’ve seen.

The ending of this series is very bittersweet, but was, at least for me, still satisfying. It manages to be both tragic and hopeful, and just thinking about the series makes me want to watch it all over again.

“Merlin” offers a mix of adventure, fun, and heartfelt moments, and it’s always great to see a fantasy story with a commitment to diverse characters. I highly recommend bumping it to the top of your quarantine queue!

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