I wasn't expecting much of the BBC's new Merlin; it looked a bit cheap and tacky, and somewhat juvenile (and yes, I know this, Robin Hood and Doctor Who are all ostensibly for kids, but the latter two are rarely juvenile in tone). So I was pleasantly surprised by the first episode.
The costumes and setting are disappointingly generic pseudo-medieval fantasy, and I've never been a fan of that approach to Arthur; that said, unlike the Robin Hood story, which has ties to an actual historical period, this is myth and speculation, so I can let it pass, even if I'd prefer a more gritty rain-and-mud approach. What makes it work is the writing, a blend of solid plotting and some witty dialogue, and the characters; Colin Morgan makes for a charming Merlin, confident yet vulnerable in equal measure, and his relationship with the young Arthur, played as a posh prat (do we have an equivalent to the US "Jock"?) by Bradley James, promises to be an interesting inversion of the hero-sidekick dynamic. Anthony Head also entertains with an Uther Pendragon who's equal parts fascist bully and broken idealist.
It's not as gloriously over-the-top as Robin Hood, but Merlin is decent enough filler while we wait for Who to come back, and I'll carry on watching.