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Review: Messy mythology aside, 'Atlantis' is a fine sand 'n' sandal romp

Likable characters, special effects and snappy dialogue in the BBC's new fantasy-adventure series should entertain all but the most fussy Greek purists.

November 23, 2013|By Mary McNamara, Los Angeles Times Television Critic
  • Jack Donnelly as Jason, Mark Addy as Hercules and Robert Emms as Pythagoras in “Atlantis.”
Jack Donnelly as Jason, Mark Addy as Hercules and Robert Emms as Pythagoras… (Dale McCready / Urban Myth…)

Leveraging the wildly anticipated, international, multimedia debut of the "Doctor Who" anniversary special, BBC America is smartly following "The Day of the Doctor" with the premiere Saturday of "Atlantis."

The new fantasy-action-adventure series is a crazy, narratively exasperating yet still quite appealing mess of Greek mythology, early mathematics (Pythagoras is a character) and vague Mediterranean history. It nicely capitalizes on the sly humor of icon tweakage, the growing popularity of genre heroes and the success of the Percy Jackson series.

Meet Jason (Jack Donnelly), a super-handsome, super-sad guy in search of his father who disappeared, the way fathers often do, in a tragic submarine accident. Somehow Jason raises enough money to hire his own bubble sub, which soon leads to him being drawn into a bright light and quickly being cast naked and gleaming (albeit from the waist up) onto the sands of a strange and foreign land.

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The new land turns out to be Atlantis, but looks a lot like Morocco (which it is). It also looks like every sandy, colorful market-riven city to ever appear in vaguely Middle-Eastern action-adventure films. There are the familiar scimitars and roof-top chases, but there are also dragons, or at least what appears to be two-headed lizards.

Fleeing the requisite angry men with swords, Jason, who has discovered he has super-human strength, stumbles into the home of Pythagoras. The wimpy math-head (Robert Emms) hides him, much to the irritation of his roomie, a rotund slacker named Hercules (Mark Addy, formerly of "Game of Thrones"). And so a three-sided bromance is born.

Atlantis plays a lot like Crete. There is a real oracle (Juliet Stevenson, proving once again she can do anything), who murmurs something about destiny and Jason not being an ordinary man. There's also a Minotaur, which Jason and his pals take on, with the aid of King Minos' daughter. (See? Crete.)

So Jason is Theseus, except he's really not. Because in future episodes he hangs out with a pre-serpentine Medusa, who winds up saving him from being sacrificed to Poseidon's murderous bulls in an arena that looks remarkably like a CG rendering of the Coliseum. (Historical note: Bull-leaping was a real thing on Crete.)

Still, the characters are likable enough, the special effects effective enough, and the dialogue snappy enough. So, as long as you're not a classic mythology purist or looking for something more than a fun, occasionally hilarious sword 'n' sandal romp, "Atlantis" is a fine, family-friendly addition to BBC America's Supernatural Saturday.

Not even close to being as good as "Doctor Who," but then few shows are.



Where: BBC America

When: 9 p.m. Saturday

Rating: TV-PG (may be unsuitable for young children)


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