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I'm in.

Starz has launched a retelling of Camelot. First impressions:

Authenticity: B

My perspective on this is based on my first Arthurian experience: T.H. White’s The Once And Future King. White based his story primarily on Thomas Malory’s Morte d’Arthur, so I’m on fairly firm ground.

Since I read White, at age 12, I’ve been more or less disappointed with retellings of the Arthur story. Camelot (Richard Harris/Vanessa Redgrave) was not bad in terms of characterization, but told only part of the story. The Sword in the Stone was cute and had some of the story right, but I mean…it was Disney.  The modern-day Merlin is a delightful show, but bears little resemblance to the story I first fell in love with.

I’m pleasantly surprised by this Camelot. All the players are pretty much in the right places, relative to each other. The timelines are pretty messed up, and some major story points are different, but the relationships that create the characters’ motivations are in place. Uther, Igraine, Merlin, Arthur, Ector, Kay, Lot, Morgause, Leontes, Guinivere. Everyone is standing in the right place on the game board. They’re sometimes there before they should be, or under different circumstances, but it’s not so terrible.

The exception is Morgan, but there’s an asterisk.  Writers and creators like to turn her into her sister, Morgause. And based on what I’ve seen, they’ve done it again. So let’s say the Morgan of this Camelot is supposed to be the Morgause of the original stories. Fine. In this story, she is Arthur’s half-sister (check), she allies with Lot (check), is an adversary of Arthur’s (check) and is some kind of witch (check).  But in the original, she gets to have four awesome and colorful sons by Lot (not happening) and sleeps with Arthur before they know they’re related, creating Arthur’s son : arch-nemesis, and owner of the king of badass villain names, Mordred. How awesome would that be? What’s more Premium Channel than incest? Sadly, that’s not happening in this telling either. So I’m torn on her – she’s there, but big missed opportunities.

Sword from the stone, check. There’s a sword, there’s a stone, and Arthur pulls it out, making folks believe he’s the pre-ordained king. But everything else about the scenario is different.

But I’m so grateful that the big stuff is right (aside from the Orkneys, which are Lot and Morgause’s family) that I’m ok with the smaller changes. So…yay.

Pretty: A+

Wow, where do I start? First, you should all come over and watch this on my ginormous flatscreen. It’s gorgeous.  But I’d imagine that even on a smaller TV, the sets, the costumes and the settings are beautiful. I really dig the little details, like whatever those hemp things are that fasten Merlin’s cloak, and the overgrown Camelot that looks like some kind of Secret Garden. The forests, the waterfalls, the cliffs, the castles. Really nice.

Then there’s Arthur, Jamie Campbell Bower. Face for days, oh my god. My eyes get all hypno-swirly sometimes and I have to rewind to actually hear what he said.

Claire Forlani, one of the most beautiful women in the world, plays Igraine, his birth-mother. They did well casting those two as family – they have the same crazy-beautiful eyes. And cheekbones and lips – I’m actually not sure which one I want to jump right now.

So  James Purefoy comes third in my list, do you believe that? Really only on account of his beard. He’s still gorgeous. Eva Green is quite something her own self, and naked a lot, if you like that sort of thing. Joseph Fiennes is hot, as usual, and it turns out I like him bald and bossy.

Oh, and HAY gatz and aunt_deen who watched Flyboys with me recently: Phillip Winchester, who was Jensen, plays Leontes in this. He’s pretty too.

Entertainment: A

I think the number one thing a show can do to win me over is to develop good, complex characters and then let them develop in a compelling way. I can’t speak to the development yet, but I like what I’m seeing so far. The Arthur I know from White is interesting because he’s a new kind of ruler. He was raised by Sir Ector and not his father, Uther, for a reason – he’s a thinker and a sensitive person. He “invents” the concept of Might for Right (rather than “Might is Right”). This new Camelot sets up the Arthur character in just that way. And JCB is hitting all the right notes for me. He’s sweet, scared, and strong when it’s called for…I want to see a little more of the analytical about him, but hopefully that will come. And more badassery, but that’s not really expected at this point in the story. I also like the Merlin character – he’s the owner of the “long view” in this story, and I like how that’s working so far. Morgan is a little too craven for my taste, but I’m hoping she’ll eventually have a few more layers.

The second thing I want out of my shows is surprise. Camelot did ok for me on this score. For example, there’s an execution that works really well for me. You know how, normally, the bad guy takes a hostage, then delays the killing to milk as much drama from it as possible? Either to get something from the protagonist or to make him (and, by extension, the audience) suffer. I don’t know if it’s just me, but I’m always like, “Bad Guy, you’re just giving him time to save the hostage or get in your head and talk you out of it. Don’t you watch movies?” I always think that if the bad guy wants to do what he intends, achieve revenge or send a message, he should just do it. Well there’s an execution here that’s so sudden that it’s not only sensible, from the bad guy’s POV, but effective for the protagonist and the viewer. Much more powerful than the regular way. I liked it. As much as I can like an execution.

Anyway, it's only the first episode, but all of this bodes well. I'm looking forward to next week!