Atlantis (BBC America) “The Earth Bull” Review

Atlantis Episode 1 The Earth Bull (3)

The Atlantis pilot had some of the sloppiest plot work I have ever witnessed. We begin with our hero Jason in modern times descending into the ocean via sub in hopes of finding his father among the wreckage at the bottom of the ocean floor. His father’s ship “The Oracle” supposedly crashed, taking Jason’s father with it. Within the first five minutes Jason finds himself pulled through a gateway between worlds and washed ashore on the sands of the lost city of Atlantis.

He takes this bizarre event in stride. Sure, he makes a comment about the strange clothing here, a crack about Pythagoras and triangles there, but for the most part Jason is eager to jump into the adventure with nary a mention of the life he left behind. In short order, he steals clothes from the beach (and randomly also some guy’s leather bracelets to complete the ensemble, I guess), is chased through the marketplace by a two-headed lizard and winds up hiding from armed guards in the home of Pythagoras and Hercules. The break-neck pace in which these events happen leave little time for the audience to think through the outlandishness of Jason’s roll with the crazy attitude.

Which was a brilliant move on writer Howard Overman’s part because as long as we don’t have time to think we can just sit back and enjoy the fun. Yes, despite my frustration that it’s clear Atlantis will be a show of little depth unless there are drastic changes ahead, it’s an enjoyable adventure series. The bromance between Jason and Pythagoras, who take turns saving each other’s lives throughout the hour, is deftly drawn. Pythagoras naturally has a good heart and is quick to give Jason a place to hide from the guards. Jason later repays the favor by taking Pythagoras’ black stone which requires him to be a tribute to the minotaur (the annual ritual ensures the gods remain happy with the city’s citizens as long as seven tributes are offered).

Not so subtle hints about Jason’s true origins are sprinkled throughout. The Oracle insists that Jason must never know who he truly is, a sentiment that is later echoed by the minotaur Jason slays, freeing him from his curse. With his last breaths the freed man also reveals he betrayed Jason’s father. As if that wasn’t enough, Jason is also saddled with the requisite special destiny: he’s meant to free and protect the people of Atlantis. Again, Jason barely reacts to this news anymore than he reacts to realizing he can do awesome back flips, dodge arrows and flirt with the daughter of the king. On the whole, he seems quite happy to have been stranded in a dangerous, mythical city. His life in the real world must have sucked. A lot.

To distract us from Jason’s nonchalant attitude, Overman packs the hour with breezy dialogue (Hercules to Jason on his swordsmanship: “I’ve seen four year old girls with a better grip”) and twisty takes on the classic myths. The most creative being the notion that Hercules was a cowardly drunk with a gambling problem. Seeing the legend gone to seed was the sort of creativity I was hoping to see in Atlantis. Mark Addy, best known for his role as another washed up warrior on Game of Thrones, is terrific in the role. Sly, lovable and hilarious as he’s forced into bravery; it’s Hercules who decides that he, Jason and Pythagoras should team up to protect the city– for a price.

As pilots go, “The Earth Bull” sped along too quickly for my taste, but the action was quality, the characters a joy to watch and the special effects weren’t half bad either. It’s no Doctor Who, but Atlantis is off to a decent start if you’re missing the likes of Legend of the Seeker or Xena.

Share your thoughts about the pilot below (no spoilers if you’ve watched on British time, please). Do you think The Oracle is Jason’s mom? Did Jason have more chemistry with Pythagoras than the helpful princess? Let us know in the comments.

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