Magazine article The Spectator

Television Myth Mash-Up

Magazine article The Spectator

Television Myth Mash-Up

Article excerpt

This week saw the final episode of possibly the greatest television series ever. Breaking Bad wasn't made by the BBC, of course. Nor, so far as I know, did it make any attempt to buy the broadcast rights. That's because, obviously, the Beeb has far more important, special things to spend your compulsory licence fee on, in keeping with the Reithian tradition. Stuff like Atlantis (BBC1, Saturday).

Atlantis was designed to fill the Saturday evening family entertainment slot that has previously been occupied by Merlin. And I do mean 'designed'. It's so crudely manufactured it makes One Direction look like Led Zeppelin. It's as ersatz as a cup of acorn coffee in 1944 Berlin, as authentic as Jordan's breasts - and if ever I catch any children of mine enjoying it then it's off to China with them to have their organs harvested.

When Merlin came out, I think I may have touched, briefly, on the pain a man suffers when he has been to Oxford and read Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur - plus all the relevant Tennyson - only to find the whole of Arthurian legend traduced, cheapened and travestied by a screenwriting mate who hasn't had the benefit of so fine an education but who ends up making gazillions by cannily giving Merlin and Arthur boyband haircuts and reinventing them for the Teletubbies generation.

Well, Atlantis is more excruciating still.

At least Merlin had the virtue of being loosely inspired by classic legend. Atlantis, on the other hand, appears mainly to have been inspired not so much by Greek myth (from which it nonetheless borrows shamelessly and indiscriminately) as by Merlin at its most cheesily derivative: the dashing young hero; the nerdy sidekick; the highranking female love interest; the stern king; the wise magician; the men running round with swords; the monsters; the jarring mix of faux-archaic language with contemporary yoof-speak.

All right, prime-time kiddie TV drama needs its archetypes. Hence, for example, the series' opening premise: diving in a submarine in search of his lost father, Jason (Jack Donnelly) finds himself in Atlantis, and is rapidly given to discover that he is, in fact, a native of the lost city, and that, aided by his remarkable acrobatic and sword-fighting skills, he is the chosen one whose task it is to do something jolly important . . .

Nothing wrong with that: even if it is the same basic plot as Harry Potter, Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, The Matrix, Merlin, and so on, it is a satisfying trope, tested by time, with which all solipsists, young and old, can identify. …

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