Now before I start explaining why I loved Merlin so much and why I'd recommend it to others I should get something out of the way first. Arthurian purists are going to have a problem with the show because Merlin is more inspired by than directly based on the traditional Arthurian legends. The most obvious example I could mention is that Merlin (who is traditionally depicted as Arthur's older and wiser mentor in Arthurian mythology) is roughly the same age as him in this show. There are other examples of how the show drifts away from traditional Arthurian mythology too. Uther Pendragon is still alive. Morgana lives at Camelot, hasn't yet discovered that she's a witch, and is still good. Guinevere is Morgana's maid rather than a princess or queen. I can understand why those who have been brought up with the traditional Arthurian tales would have a problem with the show but I'm going to stick up for it. It doesn't re-write actual historical events like The Tudors show did. The Arthurian legends are, well, legend not fact. Also, Arthurian mythology isn't like Greek mythology. The tales are contradictory and have been re-written numerous times over the centuries. In some Arthurian tales Mordred is Arthur's son and in others he isn't. The Arthur-Guinevere-Lancelot love triangle wasn't introduced until the 13th century by the Frenchman Chretien de Troyes. The Tristan and Isolde romance, the Knights of the Round Table, and the Holy Grail weren't originally a part of the Arthurian tales...basically what I'm trying to say is that there is no canon to depart from. I think it's important to be open-minded and to be aware of the contradictory nature of the legends. You'll be much more likely to enjoy the show that way! : )
The first episode of the first series starts with Merlin arriving at the city of Camelot. He's been sent there by his mother who has arranged for him to assist her old friend Gaius, the court physician. The reason why she's arranged this is for her son's protection. Merlin is a gifted wizard and his mother fears that if he continues living in their small, close-knit village that his magical powers will become known. But Merlin arrives at Camelot only to find that magic is banned there - under penalty of death - by the cruel, ruthless and magic-hating king Uther Pendragon. So to "protect" Merlin, his mother has sent him to a society where he must keep his magical powers a secret at all cost or be put to death. Riiight. However, Merlin's arrival at Camelot turns out to be a very good thing because he manages to learn his great and glorious destiny there from the imprisoned Great Dragon. Prince Arthur is the Once and Future King who will unite the land of Albion and create a great Kingdom. In his realm magic will no longer be feared and magic-users will no longer be persecuted. Merlin - as Gaius and the imprisoned Great Dragon constantly remind him - must look after Arthur, protect him from harm, make sure that he survives to become King of Camelot and help him to build the Kingdom. He will then become the most powerful, ass-kicking wizard that the world has ever known.
Merlin is an extremely entertaining, delightful show and is a million miles better than Robin Hood. Unlike that show it actually has decent storylines and very witty and funny scripts. The show is genuinely laugh-out-loud funny at times. It has substantially better acting than Robin Hood as well. And although it also features multi-ethnic casting the fact that Merlin is clearly a fantasy show means that it's able to get away with it unlike Robin Hood, which was clearly going for a more gritty and realistic tone. The cinematography is great. The show is also filmed on location - partly - at the French medieval castle Chateau de Pierrefonds, which is absolutely stunning.
Other characters are interesting and deserve mention as well. Morgana is one of the show's best and most interesting characters and I especially love her whenever she stands up to Uther. She wears fabulous dresses as well! One of my gripes with the show is that she's underused. Merlin mainly focuses on Merlin and Arthur's characters - which I'm all for - but it would still be nice if Morgana got a bit more to do. Gaius is quite likeable and Richard Wilson (who plays him) has good chemistry with Colin Morgan as well. Uther Pendragon is played by Anthony Stewart Head but his character is completely different to Giles from Buffy. Uther is an arsehole. His only redeemable feature is that he genuinely loves his son but he's still a bad father. The only thing that stops me from hating him completely is the fact that he's played by Anthony Stewart Head. The only weak link in the show in the show for me is Guinevere (or "Gwen" as everyone calls her). Although Angel Coulby's acting isn't bad she still can't make up for the fact that Gwen is easily the least interesting character in the show. Gwen is nice, kind and sweet but she's just so dull that it's quite hard to warm to her. At least Uther is a character you love to hate.
Another thing that I love about Merlin is the acting. The actors all seem to be having a great time and I was extremely surprised by the quality of the acting when I started watching the show properly. I was expecting the acting to be good from the older, veteran actors: i.e. Anthony Stewart Head, Richard "I don't believe it!" Wilson and John Hurt (who does the voice of the dragon). What surprised me is that the younger actors put in impressive performances as well. Katie McGrath is very good even though Morgana doesn't always get much to do. Bradley James and Colin Morgan have great comic timing and bounce off each other nicely. The stand-out actor for me is Colin Morgan. He's full of charisma, is equally great at both the comic scenes and the more emotional and serious scenes, pulls off an English accent perfectly (he's Irish), and he even does a terrific job at acting opposite the CGI dragon. I think he'll go on to have a great career when the show eventually finishes. Of course I've been wrong about these things before. I was absolutely convinced that Sarah Michelle Gellar would become a huge movie star once Buffy finished (since she was so fantastic in that) but, well, look what happened. I hope it's different for Morgan though! Several of the guest stars in this show should be mentioned too. Michelle Ryan has a recurring guest role as Nimueh. I know that she'll always be Zoe Slater from EastEnders to some people but I think she's an underrated actress and she does a good job in Merlin. I also found her character quite interesting in that she isn't 100% evil. There's also Santiago Cabrera (Isaac from Heroes) as Lancelot. I've always felt that the writers of Heroes made a huge mistake in killing off Isaac so it was nice to see Cabrera in something else. The best guest star though is Asa Butterfield who plays Mordred in the episode The Beginning of the End. Mordred's role in the story is to bring about the fall of Camelot and he's the one who is destined to kill Arthur. In The
Beginning of the End we see that the character is still at the Anakin Skywalker stage of his life. He's powerful and the potential for evil is there but he's still young and innocent for now. Thankfully though Morded is nowhere near as irritating as Anakin Skywalker in the Star Wars prequels because Asa Butterfield runs rings around Jake Lloyd and Hayden Christensen. He gives a very creepy and unnerving performance. No wonder he's so in demand right now (i.e. Hugo and the upcoming Ender's Game film).
But for all its faults I still can't help but love the show! It knows exactly what it is and isn't at all pretentious (unlike Robin Hood or that dreadful Camelot show which got cancelled after just one season). It can be dark at times but it's a high-quality family show and is darn entertaining and enormous fun. Every episode leaves me with a smile on my face. My favourite episodes of the first series are The Poisoned Chalice, The Beginning of the End and The Moment of Truth. The latter episode is probably my favourite overall. It's a fun homage to The Seven Samurai. Merlin, Arthur, Morgana and Gwen go on a quest to Merlin's home village to save it from evil bandits. The leader is played by Alexander Siddig. Long may the epic Merlin-Arthur bromance continue!