The new Starz series that promises to be "Merlin with boobies" is breaking the mould, but in an unexpected way, reckons SFX online’s editor
Camelot , the new series from Starz, is proving to be groundbreaking television for the States. And it has nothing to do with the sex and the swearing.
In fact, the sex and the swearing are anything but groundbreaking. I’ve watched the first two episodes with a nagging sense of familiarity as maidens have disrobed to reveal their boobies and characters have cussed like slightly self-conscious teenagers using the C-word for the first time.
Then suddenly it struck me. It’s Torchwood . A medieval Torchwood. Just like that show in its first season often felt like Doctor Who with smut and cussing inelegantly foisted on it, Camelot at times feels like Merlin desperate to get an 18 rating. It’s no surprise, then, that Camelot’s showrunner is none other than Chris Chibnall, who performed the same duties on the first two series of the Who spin-off.
There’s a lot to like about Camelot , especially Joseph Fiennes’s Merlin, for all the world like an Arthurian Peter Mandelson, a spin doctor concerned with Arthur’s public image and not afraid to use manipulation and sleight of hand to massage the truth. It’s also a pretty good action adventure yarn. Okay, there’s some clunky dialogue and clunkier plotting, but the characters are interesting and it looks great.
But, oh dear, the attempts to be adult just come across as a little puerile. The problem is similar to the one Torchwood had until its third series. You can’t just inject sex and swearing and hope that that on its own makes you look adult. You have to deal with adult themes, in an adult way, and then you can get away with it. Take The Tudors . That’s not an action adventure series; it’s about sexual politics, therefore the rumpy pumpy is totally in context. Take True Blood ; lust, perversion and sexuality are all parts of its DNA, so its sex and swearing feel totally natural and organic with the material.
But Camelot still feels primarily like an action adventure series. Sure, sexuality is an intrinsic part of Arthurian mythology, but the show doesn’t really examine that aspect. Its primary focus is sword fights, and derring do, and battles, and heroics. It pays lip service to sex as a weapon; it’s what characters do after they’ve achieved their goals, rather than a means of achieving them. As such, the sex and swearing feel a bit contrived.
And boy-sy. It’s a very boy-sy show. There are plenty of bare breasts on offer, but ripped, male character gratuitously ripping their shirts off are notably thin on the ground. Then again, you can’t help but think that Jamie Campbell Bower might have the body of Gollum under all those robes, he looks so scrawny. Feel free to prove us all wrong, Jamie.
But speaking of Jamie, he’s the one area of the show which can truly be called groundbreaking. He possesses one thing that makes him unique among male US TV stars.
He doesn’t have perfect teeth.
I’m not being mean. It’s a fact. They’re not particularly bad. Just a little crooked and sticky-outy. Some people might even find them cute. But imperfect dentistry on US TV? That’s unheard of. Maybe it’s a subtle gag about the fact that all Yanks think us Brits have bad teeth. I’d prefer to think that Chibnall and co just had the balls to cast someone who they thought was right for the role regardless of his chompers. It could the start of a dental revolution on TV. There’s hope for Shane McGowan yet.