Atlantis spoiler-free episode one review: The Earth Bull

The BBC’s new teatime adventure show, written by Misfits’ Howard Overman, gets off to an energetic, cartoonish start…

1.1 The Earth Bull

Meet Jason, the latest BBC adventurer to spend Saturday teatimes running from monsters, jumping off things, and unravelling the mysteries of his fate. Unlike timeslot predecessors Robin Hood and Merlin, Jason does his running, jumping and fate-unravelling against an appealing Mediterranean backdrop. He’s the hero of Atlantis (less a lost city than a handy compendium of Greek myth in this incarnation), a fish out of water with a secret destiny and a six-pack.

Having exhausted English folklore and Arthurian legend, BBC One has a new seam of monsters-of-the-week to mine. The likes of the Minotaur, Furies, Medusa, Dionysus and Pandora are being repackaged into forty five-minute adventures around which the family can gather of a Saturday night. (The present continuous is there because four episodes of series one are yet to be filmed).

Will families gather for Atlantis? On the basis of episode one, a cartoonish caper that’ll have young kids air-sword fighting and parents browsing for last minute deals to the Aegean coast, quite probably. Tonally, the first half of the episode is closer to a live-action Saturday morning cartoon than a programme adults can invest in as much as children – to speak in Who terms, think Dinosaurs on a Spaceship instead of Family of Blood – but the second half’s romance and scares point towards a future that will better satisfy all ages.

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After a no-messing-around bit of framing narrative, our hero is launched into a world of two-headed lizards, prophesies and male bonding. No sooner has Jason landed on Atlantis’ shores than he’s battling monsters in the marketplace and stylishly dodging arrows loosed by royal guards. There’s scant room for reflection on his new surroundings before an heroic quest falls into Jason’s lap and it’s over to some creepy caves to tick the first mythological beastie off his ‘To Do’ list.

Looks-wise, Atlantis has it going on. The stunts (and there are plenty of those) are gymnastic, and the CGI creatures are impressive and convincing. Its vast temples, palatial squares and looming mountains also achieve the necessary world-building in style. Redundant as it may seem to note an old-fashioned feel to the sets of a mythological epic, there’s something nostalgic about Atlantis’ Hellenic golds and blues, which recall the backdrops to vintage adventure stories.

Speaking of which, gladly, we’re assured more prominent roles for Atlantis’ women in episodes to come, because The Earth Bull is undeniably a Boys’ Own adventure. Jason quickly falls in with nerdy Pythagoras (cue the fullest range of jokes about triangles you’ll hear on the BBC since Johnny Ball’s tenure) and his opposite number, Obelix-alike Hercules, both established early on as the comic relief. This three-way friendship between the weedy one (Robert Emms), the portly one (Mark Addy), and the heroic destiny one (Jack Donnelly) forms our central gang. We also meet an Oracle (Juliet Stevenson), a Princess Jasmine-type (Aiysha Hart) her antagonist mother (Sarah Parish) and a damsel in distress, but episode’s one action is firmly in the hands of the men.

With its royal family, talk of fate, central ‘bromance’, and Pandora’s box of CGI monsters, the similarities between Atlantis and Merlin – also produced by Johnny Capps and Julian Murphy – ensure the journey from Arthurian legend to mythological Greece will be a smooth one for BBC audiences. Incidentally, fans of the latter’s Sirs Gawain and Percival may be pleased to hear that the grand tradition of gratuitous male torso shots on Saturday teatimes has been upheld.

Atlantis hits the ground running with this first caper, which has been designed to grab kids’ attention and set out the stall for an adventure-packed twelve weeks to come. I’m no Oracle, but given the right development, more of those tempting backdrops, and enough time to grow, it could well become a family favourite.

Atlantis starts on BBC One on Saturday the 28th of September. Read more about it on Den of Geek, here.

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