arts, movies, music, pop culture

and his name is … Merlin

And now for something completely different…

I get really really tired of television shows. They tend to be really inane, lack quality of character development or plot development and are just generally painful to watch. The men tend to be stupid, sniffling jerks and the women tend to be manipulative, conniving wenches. And that’s just the kids shows.

I started watching Merlin about a year ago or so when it appeared on my Netflix queue. I thought it would be good mindless fun as I find most BBC productions. Plus I have always liked the story of Arthur and Camelot and dragons. What I wasn’t planning on was finding a story about what it means to be noble and have integrity, what it means to have great power, and what kind of person makes a great leader. I didn’t expect the story line to consistently include making great sacrifices, even their lives, on a regular basis. I was pleasantly surprised to find that even though Merlin could easily destroy everyone in his path at any given moment, the show constantly puts him in a position to show grace, mercy, forgiveness and great restraint, even humility. I feel like these concepts were long gone with Leave it to Beaver and Little House on the Prairie. I’m so glad they seem to be making a comeback. I mean if you can call a semi-popular BBC series a comeback.

And I can’t help but think maybe it’s America. Maybe it’s TV shows in our society that heralds things like weakness of character, potty humor, dysfunctional families, and sex-driven plot lines. Look, I laugh at Tracey Morgan as much as the next person (especially if the next person is my husband) but when you start picking apart what we’re laughing at, it’s a little embarrassing – ignorance, petty whining, overt racism, sexism, and every other ism.

Maybe we aren’t asking enough of our writers. Maybe our writers aren’t asking enough of themselves. With the turn from novels and theatre to the small screen, maybe we lost sight of what a great story teller can do, what they can teach us, through laughter, through tears, through fear, even situational ethics.

I love watching shows that push me to consider what I would do. I love picking apart characters and almost making it into a mental exercise, trying to understand what it takes for people to act the way they do. Most shows don’t stretch us that much. And while a show like Merlin is actually geared more toward young adult/teen viewers, it creates a deeper vision of what it means to have power and how to use it well. It pits people who abuse their power against those who are committed to the greater good. Sticking with the show throughout the 4 seasons so far, we’ve gotten to watch both Merlin and Arthur grow up and make hard choices, albeit formulaic choices that are wrapped up in 45 minutes. Who’s writing this stuff for us? Who’s creating stories and characters that teach young kids (whether they realize it or not) that putting others first and being a good friend are noble qualities? Who’s making it clear that it doesn’t matter what others think of you if you know who you are and keep your wits about you?

It’s been fun to watch Rob’s kids yell at the screen when we watch Merlin. Not that I like to see them upset, mind you, but it means they are working it out in their heads. They say things like I would have… or why doesn’t he just… and we get to talk about what it means to wait for the perfect time, or how sometimes you can have all the right reasons, but still cause more harm than good. We get to talk about justice and forgiveness. They get to see an example of how someone admits they were wrong and how reconciliation occurs. They get to watch two young men discover what it means to rule a kingdom and to lead a people who depend on them. It’s truly fantastic.

We need more of this. More heroes worth watching. More characters worth developing. More stories worthy of the Gospel grace they are portraying maybe without even realizing they’re doing it. Though we suspect someone on the Merlin writing staff knows it full well.

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