Sunday, 6 October 2013

ATLANTIS, 1.2 – 'A Girl By Any Other Name'

Sunday, 6 October 2013

written by Howard Overman | directed by Justin Molotnikov

Some readers are probably expecting me to review Atlantis every week, as it's replacing Merlin in the schedule and shares a lot of its DNA, but I can't see it being worth the bother. It was once a novelty the BBC were producing fantasy shows of this calibre for all the whole family to enjoy, which even found an audience overseas, but that period has since passed.

I can't wait a few years for Atlantis to grow into something better, as I expect the writing to have taken lessons from Merlin (considering it's produced by the same team) and hit the ground running. Unfortunately, "A Girl By Any Other Name" only proved that the production company have picked up where Merlin left off. Atlantis looks like it's on a budget compared to US shows where each episode costs three times as much (of course), but holds its own very well. I was impressed by how many locations were used during this episode, and the CGI for its fearsome satyrs was really good. It even provided some genuine shocks, which I was rather surprised by. I think parents should vet this show before letting anyone under-8 watch.

This week it became a little clearer how Atlantis will operate as a weekly series. Jason (Jack Donnelly) has earned himself a reputation by slaying the Minotaur, so it looks like people are going to be requesting his help with problems and quests. This episode saw Jason, Hercules (Mark Addy) and Pythagoras (Robert Emms) recruited to find the missing daughter of an old man; which led them to discover she's part of the Cult of Dionysus, who are brainwashed by their leader to commit various atrocities.

To be honest, I found it hard to invest in this week's story because I was too distracted by the various problems Atlantis is already attracting. Jason's from the future (a fun wrinkle I wasn't anticipating from the premiere), but you'd never have guessed that from how he was behaving. Beyond the fact Jason, like the audience, knew the significance of the word "Medusa", there was nothing to remind us he's from the 21st-century. Why isn't he astonished there are supernatural creatures around? Is the future Jason from an alternate universe where those things just went extinct? It also became very noticeable that Jason's incredibly boring (a combination of the writing presenting him as a dull handsome hero, and Donnelly coming across as fairly wooden). Things perk up whenever Mark Addy's around, simply because he has more charisma than the rest of the cast put together. I just have no idea why they've avoided giving him super-strength.

There was a nice guest-star role for Jemima Rooper as Medusa (later cursed to one day sprout snakes for hair), Frances Tomelty essentially reprised a role she played on Merlin as a high priestess, and on a technical level it "A Girl By Any Other Name" delivered the goods with gorgeous scenery and sets; but without a more robust story, filled with fun characters you want to spend time with, none of it really matters.

The key thing that kept Merlin alive through repetitive plots and a sluggish mythology (certainly until late-series 3) was the fun actors and their interations. Atlantis still has a lot of work making Jason/Hercules/Pythagoras into a strong comic trio, but Atlantis otherwise isn't straying too from Merlin's proven formula. But does it have to feel so familiar? Like Camelot's simply been relocated to the Mediterranean and everyone's switched costumes? The Oracle (Juliet Stephenson) has already become the Atlantis version of Merlin's John Hurt-voiced Dragon, spouting riddles, as I feared she would last week. Let's hope Stephenson's role gets more interesting, because at least Hurt only had to put up with a few hours of recording in a sound booth every year.

5 October 2013 | BBC1