A Show About the Depth of Male Friendship . . . and farting trolls

by | Sep 23, 2015 | Catholic Mom TV Review, Hey Watch This | 26 comments

The husband is reading The Lord of the Rings aloud to the kids, and I find myself struck again by the beauty of the friendship between Frodo and Sam. Sam’s constant selfless devotion, Frodo’s (eventual) trust and reliance . . . it’s just all so touching. And a deep and profound friendship between two men is not something I’m used to finding in entertainment.

Then, in my poking around on Netflix, looking for something to watch while stuck under a nursing baby, I happened upon a BBC show from about ten years ago, called Merlin. And, wouldn’t you know it, this show features a similarly moving relationship between the titular character and Aurthur of Camelot. There’s also a lot of teasing and silliness, but it all ends up in friendship.

Now, The Lord of the Rings is profound for lots of other reasons besides its portrayal of friendship, and Tolkien’s writing is brilliant and complex. I would not describe the writing on Merlin using either of those terms, but it is fun and entertaining.

It somehow manages to be The Lord of the Rings meets Doctor Who. It has the heart and Truth, deep down, of The Lord of the Rings but the lighthearted wackiness and (somewhat cheesy) monster-heavy special effects of Doctor Who.

My favorite things about the show . . .

1. Merlin is chock full of self-sacrifice and virtue among its characters. Merlin is a servant willing to die for his master and friend. Aurthur is a leader willing to die for his kingdom and people. Gaius is a model example of a foster father. The knights are selfless and daring and good. Guinevere is brave and loyal (when she’s not under a magic spell, but she’s under a magic spell a LOT).

2. The heroes don’t flip-flop. Characters develop, and some do start out as friends and become foes, but it’s a story arc, and you have the sense that it’s coming. The GOOD guys, however, struggle and question, and they sometimes fail, but they don’t just become bad guys for a while, or turn out to have been bad guys all along. I really hate that. And I think it’s unnecessarily confusing for kids.

3. Speaking of kids, this is truly a family show. There is no sexual content in the show. Even characters who get married don’t ever have a big SCENE. There’s some awkwardness between a troll and a main character (more on that later) and one of the knights is shown putting his shirt on in his room with a young lady present, so we can figure what must have happened. But that’s absolutely as bad as it gets.

4. It’s all been made. It’s five seasons, which is enough but not too much, and it’s finished, so you can’t get invested in it then have them spring something problematic on you.

Good guys are good, bad guys are bad, a little romance, a lot of swashbuckling, a lot of magic, no gore, no language, no sex. It’s fun for the whole family.

BUT. I should probably warn you . . .

1. There is a TON of male shirtlessness in this show. I don’t personally imagine the king of Camelot sleeping shirtless. But this one does. There’s an episode in which the knights are captured and made to work in some snow mines where it’s so cold, you can see their breath. And they are shirtless the whole time. One of the knights, Percival, wears cut off chain mail, which should no more be a thing than bikini armor. It just really defeats the POINT of chain mail, if it has no sleeves. Most awkward of all, there’s a running gag about Aurthur’s pants falling down.

2. It can be kind of intense. There is one REALLY SCARY episode in season five (The Dark Tower). There are intense battle scenes. Characters we love die. It might all be too much for sensitive kids.

3. The writing is a bit formulaic. Basically, most episodes are: A
trusted person within the court wants to kill the king. Merlin and Gaius
know but can’t tell Aurthur because, reasons. The murderous person
cannot, say, just STAB the king because, reasons. So, there’s an
elaborate plot that involves going on a quest or fighting a magical
beast of some sort. All poisons take about three days to kill you, to
give you time for the questing.

4. Many of the episodes
are very earnest and very touching. . . . And some seem like they must
have been written by a nine year old boy because they are almost
completely about farting. I really did not like those episodes, and felt
extraordinarily embarrassed for all of the actors while watching them.
I’d recommend skipping them entirely, except they do advance the plot. Fortunately, there are only a handful, mostly in season two.

Overall, I enjoyed and recommend it. If you like fantasy and don’t mind some camp to go with it, and you’re not TOO worried about whether some knights might catch a cold, perhaps Merlin is for you. And if you’re looking for something to watch with the kids, this could fit the bill. I plan to watch it through again sometime with my kids, probably the seven and ups.

You might also enjoy:

There’s a Right Way and a Wrong Way to Fracture a Fairy Tale . . .

Daredevil is Catholic (so far)

And that’s my honest opinion. But this is a sponsored post.

What are we missing out on? What are YOUR favorite whole-family shows?


  1. Isabelle

    Aaaah Merlin! Such fun! But I agree it gets a bit repetitive (I personally would have voted for more dragons) and Morgana is very tiring, you should warn people about that!

    • Kendra

      Yeah. I could have done with a bit less secret smirking from Morgana.

    • Liesl

      I counted the evil smirks from Morgana for a whole season… it was a very very large number…

  2. Mary Rochow

    My husband and I watched Merlin about a year ago, I think. We thought it was a fun watch, but I probably wouldn't watch it again for most of the reasons you mentioned. I think it's worth recommending, though! :o)

  3. Athena Carson

    We enjoyed Merlin as well – the thing to remember is that Merlin is a product of the way TV series used to be pretty much universally engineered: every episode needs to stand on its own. Yes there are elements of a longer story arc, but if you are flipping the channels and pause on the show for a minute, it needs to draw you in and leave you satisfied at the end. That's what our concept of "good" TV used to be. This formula is very limiting, and it tends to stifle the potential of shows that were good that could have been brilliant.

    I personally am a fan of the way TV is engineered now with story arcs that last for seasons or the entire series, and very VERY limited resolution of anything in any given episode. I got to watch a bit of this transition with Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – sometime in the third season they started experimenting with multi-episode story arcs, and by the time the series ended after seven seasons, they were pretty comfortable with the long story arcs that left us in suspense (rather than resolving something) at the end of each episode. It was really cool watching the potential of the characters and the series be unleashed as they worked through the new TV format.

    Have you seen the show Eureka? The premise is a top-secret town full of extremely brilliant people who are all tinkerers by nature, so there is always something going on / going wrong. The main character is the sheriff – a guy of average intelligence who has the investigative skills that nobody else has. I thought it was a neat dynamic to watch, and I like how it validated that there is no one way to be valuable – you bring what you have to the table (whatever that is) because your piece is indispensable. Similar to Merlin, it was from an era where TV shows were engineered as self-contained episodes, but there are some longer story arcs as well.

    • Kendra

      This is a good point. It wasn't made for Netflix watching, each episode is like a tiny movie.

  4. Aimee Hall

    Merlin was one of my favorite Netflix shows! I have a question about Lord of the Rings, though. My 8 year old is reading the Hobbit now and I was going to have him start Lord of the Rings next but someone told me they thought they were much more intense than the Hobbit. I don't really have the time to read them first so I've been looking for more opinions but no one I know seems to know. Is it similar to the Hobbit/ okay for an 8 year old, do you think?

    • Kendra

      The Lord of the Rings books are much more complicated than the Hobbit, in language, and plot, and themes. They have violence, but it's not immoral violence, it's the noble defending of their land from the ultimate bad guy. And there are deaths of characters we love, and scary scenes of peril. So, yes, it's much more intense. I don't have any problem exposing my kids to any that, since it's done in a true and beautiful way. But we are doing it as a read aloud, because the writing is too sophisticated for most of my kids to read on their own.

      If your son is a very strong reader, it's possible he could do it, but I'd put them at a seventh grade reading level. If you are looking for something else for him, try the Redwall series. They are great, questing type fantasy books about a mouse, and there are a TON of them, so they'll keep him busy for a while.

  5. October Rose

    I loved this series SO much. I may just go back and watch it again the next time I run out of my current tv shows. 🙂

    And because apparently I have the humor of a nine year old boy, there was one farting episode that I could not stop laughing over. Oh well! 😉

    • October Rose

      I should add, now that I remember, my only quibble with it was that Morgana's downfall happened WAY too fast. I wish they'd put a bit more effort into it.

    • Athena Carson

      As I recall, they weren't given a whole lot of notice before the series had to end. So plots that they were going to draw out and develop and explore had to be rushed just to give the series an ending. Kinda disappointing, but that's the way it works.

  6. Amanda

    Farting and gay marriage. It's always something 😉

    • Kendra

      Ah, yes. (Just to clarify, the gay marriage concern is with Once Upon a Time's upcoming season six, not with Merlin.)

  7. Ali

    I was curious if you are still watching Once. I'm on Season 5 because I only watch on Netflix and was not aware of the concerns with Season 6.
    Speaking of TV shows that you've written about, I was planning to e-mail you, but I'll just leave this as a comment.
    I recently finished reading all 4 of the memoirs written by Jenifer Worth, the author of the books that, "Call the Midwife," was based on. In her books, Jenifer's faith (Anglican) is much more apparent (I find it so aggravating that it was repressed for the show!), and the reader witnesses her faith growing and deepening across the series. Some of the experiences she relays are still horrific, but they are presented a little differently than the show and her faith clearly has a deeper role in how she processes these experiences.

    Her last book, In the Midst of Life, was particularly impressive and can be read as a stand alone. It is both memoir and an exploration of our current culture's attitudes towards death and dying – especially with the terminally ill and elderly. I was a little worried about where she was headed mid-way through the book, but ultimately found the book to be in keeping with Catholic teachings on death and dying (at least as well as I understand it) and presented in a way that might make non-Catholics better understand the sanctity of life at the end of life.

    • Kendra

      I am still watching Once. I haven't watched Season five yet. I started watching it through again, Betty and I are on Season two, slowly making our way through it. I don't think season six has even been made yet, but there was just an announcement that they owed their fans an LGBT storyline. 😛

      1. A lot more of their fans are Catholic than LGBT, where's OUR storyline?
      2. I just hope it is handled in the same way it was in Season two, which I thought was great. But I'm figuring they won't.

      Thanks for the tip on the book. I never did start up Call the Midwife again. I'd have to hear something really great about the show before I'd invest more time in it. I love all the 50s stuff, but I just kept feeling so frustrated with how everything was handled. It wasn't worth it for me.

  8. Liesl

    This is my favorite show ever 🙂 I've watched it many times through. A lot of what you talk about for your reasons for liking it are why I like it too. And I love cheesy and fart humor, because apparently I am a young child. It also helps that it's all in British accents <3

  9. BrookeThomas

    Thanks for the tip! This has been in my que for a while!

    I highly recommend Madame Secretary if you like political shows. It emphasizes a SOLID marriage & the lead characters have moral compasses so strong you'll actually pray they really existed in DC.
    Catholic, retired Marine husband who is a noted religions professor…thought you should check it out!

  10. WritingWillow

    I loved Merlin. It is absolutely a cross between Once Upon a Time and Doctor Who – with plenty of campy silliness. I definitely loved how the characters were challenged: Merlin makes several questionable choices where he had to decide if the ends justified the means. I liked that sometimes he made the wrong choice and had to learn from it – that was refreshingly real. The show does get considerably darker and more serious in the last 2 or 3 seasons, though, with characters dying and raising the stakes and Morgana on her rampage. I have very strong feelings about the ending, too. I cried all the tears even though I knew it would end the way it did.

  11. Tori

    I still haven't decided if I will continue watching Once Upon a Time after their announcement. I'm only in season 2 but I don't watch to keep getting invested if I'm just going to have to give it up later. So now I have something to watch in the mean time, thanks!

  12. Claire Rebecca

    I hadn't heard about Once Upon a Time :(. Honestly though, I will probably keep watching it since it's just me watching it. I don't remember the show getting particularly sexual with any of the other romances.

    • Kendra

      Claire Rebecca and Tori, I do plan to keep watching it. And that's an excellent point about nothing being graphic. I'll just preview it before I watch it with kids.

  13. Angela Schuppe

    I highly recommend the show Lost if you haven't already watched it. I believe it's still on Netflix. It's has a great storyline & has certain Catholic things going on throughout the whole show. So far they haven't showed any sex just a guy putting his shirt on. Some people say it's kind of like a purgatory. I'm only on season 2 but I read some Catholic reviews so I kinda know what's coming 😉

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Hi! I’m Kendra.

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