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CAMELOT on Starz Channel: Philosophical Monday

Okay, well the CAMELOT redux has sneak-previewed its first episode on the Starz Channel. I’m a nerd. I’m a British scif-fi nerd. Jonathan Worth, the head writer of CAMELOT, previously did stints on TORCHWOOD and LIFE ON MARS. I should have adored this series opener, except I didn’t — it all came down to the women and sadly, the writing. Here are my thoughts:

Why I Decided to Watch It: For the same reason I watch everything having whatsoever to do with CAMELOT. I’ve even watched the first season of MERLIN ya’ll — I’m not playing.

What It’s About: It’s basically the Arthur legend in minute and somewhat historical detail. We get to hear the origin story of baby Arthur, which is pretty much a soap opera plot with magic. But we also get to hear Morgana’s side of the story which includes fifteen years of forced exile in a nunnery and a realm that she cannot rule, because she is a woman and also held in contempt by her father, Uther.

What Makes it Different: Unlike Merlin, the storyline isn’t tidy. Other than the suspicious lack of split ends or body hair on any of the women, design-wise this series feels much more accurate than anything we’ve seemed before. Armies that would have been depicted as CGI-enhanced hordes on the hills in a Camelot movie are reduced to bands of 20-40 men in this much more realistic depiction.

What I Loved: Eva Green (best known as the Bond girl from CASINO ROYALE) is an arresting presence in this series and given lots to do. It feels as if her talent has finally found a character worth of her considerable screen presence. James Purefoy (Mark Antony in HBO’s ROME series)  as King Lot is also fun to watch. In a smart bid for those of us who could watch HGTV all day, the Camelot keep is presented as a Roman-era fortress and basically the biggest home remodeling project ever. And last but not least, the small-but-you-know-really-big details of the Arthurian legend are fascinating and worth examining in a full televisions series. This alone might convince me to keep watching.

END OF NON-SPOILERS SECTION – Don’t read on if you want to go into the series clean.

What I Didn’t Like: The writers take great care to show us both sides of the story but then don’t bother to present us with any reasons to cheer for Arthur, presuming that we will be on his side, because — well, I’m not sure why. Here’s what we learn about Morgana: her father, King Uther, killed her mother in order to get with her stepmother, Igraine,  (Claire Forlani), he then exiles her to a nunnery  when she raises a fuss. After 15 years in a nunnery, she escapes and returns and he backhands her for stating things as they are, with Queen Igraine looking on helplessly and sadly (looking on helplessly and sadly is pretty much her standard M.O. as we’ll find out throughout the episode). Morgana ends up killing her father as he killed her mother and aligning with his biggest enemy, King Lot. She exiles Arthur’s mother, Queen Igraine, and sets forth with a plan to unite the realms. Meanwhile Merlin(Joseph Fiennes) takes off with great urgency to collect Arthur, the illegitimate son of Queen Igraine and King Uther.

Here’s what we learn about Arthur: He really loves kitty. He is pretty much a hormone-addled frat boy with sex on the brain. Besides being a playboy, he lives a charmed life, with everything coming easy for him. Until Merlin comes to fetch him, he’s faced zero adversity. But Merlin insists he’s the one true king who will bring unicorns and rainbows to the land and will … wait for it, unite the realms. He has the exact same plan that Morgana has. This is when the series hits a serious record scratch.

Here’s me: “Wait Morgana is an ambitious bad ass who avenges her mother and goes after what she wants, but I’m supposed to cheer for the blond guy who thinks of women as disposable tissue?” Uther’s remaining soldiers come to stand with Arthur, telling him what a great leader Uther was — though we saw no evidence of this in the couple of scenes he had before dying, which pretty much came down to backhanding his daughter really hard and then partying like it’s 1999 — so we’ll have to take the one soldier’s word for it. Morgana radiates with anger and frustration when she faces down Arthur. I can’t help but be on her side. She’s been through several trials and tribulations to get where she is. Arthur took one horse ride to Camelot. At this point, it feels like Morgana — not Arthur — is the true underdog. Basically the “bad” woman is smart, independent and fierce, and the “good” women like Queen Igraine and Arthur’s adopted mother just go along with whatever the men say. CAMELOT as a series has a “most popular guy in high school” problem. You can’t base a successful series around someone who manages to bat down a great underdog to get something he doesn’t necessarily deserve. What’s so interesting or great about that?

To Whom Would I Recommend This Series: Men (it seems to be made exclusively for their edification), Camelot Buffs, and Designers