Jason and the Anglophiles
“Atlantis” on BBC America
BBC America, home to genre-based obsessions like “Doctor Who,” “Being Human” and “Orphan Black,” has added a new chapter to its Supernatural Saturdays lineup with gleefully corny fantasy series “Atlantis.” The series shamelessly mashes up “Hercules: The Legendary Journeys,” Ray Harryhausen and “Game of Thrones,” resulting in a fitfully silly, Saturday matinee of a show.
The series started off looking like Titanic, with modern-day stud Jason (Jack Donnelly, “House of Anubis”) searching for his father’s long-lost submarine on the bottom of the Atlantic ocean. While tooling around in his mini-sub, our hero crashes into a mysterious underwater light and wakes up (naked, it should be noted) on the shores of an uncharted island. Turns out he’s traveled through time (or dimensions or something) to the fabled land of Atlantis. There he teams up with “that triangle guy” Pythagoras (Robert Emms, War Horse) and a chubby, drunken Hercules (played by The Full Monty’s Mark Addy) to, you know, fight monsters and crap.
The show doesn’t work all that hard to set up its particular universe. It basically takes every Greek myth in creation and tosses them all in a stewpot to simmer. We get gods, heroes, minotaurs, evil kings, beautiful princesses and a sexy Medusa—none of it tied to history or reality or anything other than the whims of weekly TV fantasy. The show doesn’t take quite the liberties that the syndicated “Hercules” once did (Aphrodite as a surfin’ Southern California beach babe?), but that long-running hit used humor to get away with an awful lot. “Atlantis” is jokey, all right, but it never really pushes the envelope. (Hercules saying “I’m not fat, I’m big-boned” is about as wacky fun as “Atlantis” gets.) Series producers Johnny Capps and Julian Murphy were responsible for the “Smallville”-ish fantasy series “Merlin,” which should give certain fans an idea of what they’re in for.
The sets and locations are quite expansive, giving the show a surprisingly large feel. Shot in Wales and Morocco, “Atlantis” does look better than your average TV fantasy. Some well-done digital effects add to the “realism” of it all. So far it’s just the scripts that seem like a jumble. It’s hard to really nail down the tone of “Atlantis.” Mostly it’s content to be a winking riff on fantasy adventures. (Pythagoras, Hercules and the Minotaur in Atlantis?) But occasionally it treats its central storyline (something about Jason’s secret past) with a good deal too much solemnity. The show might be better off if it chose one path or the other.
Rickety as it might be, it’s made an impression on audiences. It’s already renewed for a second season back in England, and its debut on BBC America following the “Doctor Who” 50th anniversary special ensured plenty of stateside viewers. So if you like your fantasy light, breezy, fun and not the slightest bit educational, “Atlantis” is happy to waggle its sword in the minotaur’s face for you.