Atlantis BBC One

BBC America will soon begin airing the British series ATLANTIS. Similar to Merlin and other fantasy shows, the story is about a young man who is searching for his lost father and ends up in the mysteries land of Atlantis, which is apparently where he’s from. It’s an hour-long drama full of magic, mythical creatures, mystery, and possibly some time travel.

The man’s name is Jason (Jack Donnelly, House of Anubis), and he is in the present day at the start. A trip down in a submarine that breaks apart sends him to the titular city somehow. Jason doesn’t know anything about his origins until The Oracle (Juliet Stevenson, White Heat) tells him. He is confused and curious, but also a hero, and so acts heroically, adapting to his surroundings and immediately willing to risk his life for the new friends he makes, roommates Pythagoras (Robert Emms, War Horse) and Hercules (Mark Addy, Game of Thrones).

Atlantis is ruled by King Minos (Alexander Siddig, Star Trek: Deep Space 9), a cruel man who Jason is told not to reveal himself to. Every year, Minos has his subjects draw markers and an unlucky handful are sacrificed to the dreaded Minotaur. One of Jason’s new pals is chosen, and that’s where the story of the pilot, “The Earth Bull,” takes off. Oh, and of course Minos has a daughter, Ariadne (Aiysha Hart, Honour), who is smitten with Jason.

What this means is a lot of the initial installment is set up, then things move really fast and there’s still time to stick in a story-of-the-week. Viewers will not be worried that serious harm will befall Jason because it doesn’t seem like the type of show to take such a huge chance, so the stakes are relatively low, making the danger muted, and not too scary for kids.

My first impression of ATLANTIS is that it’s cheesy. Like its peer Merlin, it takes familiar character names and twists the story for “modern sensibilities.” But it’s all fluff, nothing heavy or complex, with characters easy to pigeonhole. Hercules is grumpy, but we know he’s a good guy. Minos doesn’t seem so bad at times, but he’s definitely the villain. I really wish Jason was a bit dark, but he’s not, the epitome of the good guy, and even with his father’s disappearance, pretty boring.. It’s all very obvious.

Now, this kind of thing has worked well for the BBC before, so it’s understandable why they would want to do it again, and indeed, a second series has already been ordered, ahead of its U.S. airing. That’s because there is a sense of adventure and whimsy, something audiences can connect to, and I think hearing some of the names of legendary literature may even give the premise a false sense of gravitas. Sadly, the depth of story does not rise up to such a level.

One thing that is confusing about “The Earth Bull” is whether Jason has traveled in time and/or space. The technology in Atlantis is definitely that of ancient times, but The Oracle and the Minotaur make it seem other-worldly, not just in our past. And Jason tells Pythagoras he will be well remembered, but given the unrealistic elements, this civilization could very well be somewhere else, and this may not be the famous Pythagoras, despite his love of tinkering with triangles, since that Pythagoras didn’t live in Atlantis. So I guess we’re supposed to assume this is past Earth, and Atlantis and its magic co-exist with ancient Greece?

I suspect I’m overthinking this. ATLANTIS is clearly meant to be just an action-adventure show, not concerned with being historically accurate or telling a ‘real’ tale. It exists in its own separate universe, with rules that will become clear as the show plays out. It’s not highbrow or intellectual, but it is mildly entertaining and comfortable.

The special effects are pretty decent, at least as good as Merlin or Primeval, though not cinema-quality. That’s important, since there are creatures as well as people interacting. I assume the CGI will continue to get better with each subsequent year.

ATLANTIS premieres Saturday at 9 p.m. ET on BBC America.