The big thing tonight comes with a warning: "The following program contains nudity and sexuality. Viewer discretion is advised."
Truer words were never spoken. Camelot (CBC, 9 p.m.) is an epic of the erotic, a cornucopia of perky posteriors and pert bosoms, and the production seems to have a rule that frantic canoodling must erupt before every commercial break. This is not your mom and pop's Camelot. It's poorly done and pure filth. Fun, mind you.
To most people, the term Camelot evokes visions of King Arthur, the Knights of the Round Table, Merlin the magician, Guinevere falling for Sir Lancelot and everybody being sweet and chivalric when not preoccupied with finding the Holy Grail. There is only some of that stuff in this thing.
An Irish-Canadian co-production, the 10-part series has already aired on the Starz channel in the United States and in Britain. It's from the people who brought us that other epic of humpy-bumpy in castles and forests, The Tudors. And like in that series, the sweeping hills of County Wicklow in Ireland stand in for Somewhere-in-England.
Man, those hills – familiar to me from my youth – have seen some action in recent years. They should post warnings to alert those people merely going for a walk or hiking through the pleasant scenery: "If you follow this path you may encounter armies of actors engaging in scenes of nudity and sexuality. Hiker discretion is advised." That kinda thing.
Anyway, Camelot opens with Morgan (Eva Green, who was a Bond-movie eye-candy character in Casino Royale) arriving at her dad's castle in the middle of the night and wreaking havoc. She has escaped from a nunnery and is seriously ticked off, it seems. So she murders dad, banishes her stepmother – known only as "the whore" – and then seduces her dad's mortal enemy, one King Lot (James Purefoy). Morgan is brilliantly, cartoonishly evil and sexy. Young adolescent males will worship her.
In our first encounter with Arthur (Jamie Campbell Bower), he is engaged in what is known as "wenching." That is, he is naked with an equally naked young lady, stretched out by a tree and a babbling brook. The scene concretely captures the tone of the series. You see, the camera lingers a very long time on the wench's wee bum. After the wenching is interrupted, Arthur and another fella are nattering away, but the nattering is not the point of the scene – important information is actually being delivered. The entire conversation is filmed from a vantage point immediately behind the young lady's rear end.
Along comes Merlin (Joseph Fiennes) who is, it turns out, a skinhead with ambitions to be Donald Trump. I'm not kidding. Merlin says stuff that is supposed to be mysterious, mystical and meaningful, but his remarks sound remarkably like what The Donald says in The Art of the Deal. "Forget the past. Define yourself in the present, and one day you might rule." Or this: "Take what you are feeling and use it as fuel." See what I mean?
Events proceed from there. More bums, rutting peasants and the inexorable rise of Arthur to surfer-dude King of England … with, of course, the action interrupted at precisely timed intervals so Morgan can show somebody her ta-ta's. After two episodes you are pretty sure you'd recognize them anywhere.
The scholars among us will know there have been many interesting versions of the Arthur legends on film and television. John Boorman's movie Excalibur (made in the same Wicklow hills as this tosh) is notable for its grim tone and the gore of the battle scenes. Robert Bresson's Lancelot du Lac is even more astonishing, being the story of Lancelot and Guinevere distilled into a Samuel Beckett-like mediation on the awfulness of life and love.
This Camelot is not worth any scholar's attention. But it is such a crackpot variation on the Arthurian legends that it is eminently enjoyable. Just remember the warning – your discretion is advised.
Also airing tonight
The arrival of Ringer (The CW, 9 p.m.) marks the unofficial start to the 2011/12 TV season. It's new, it's kinda hot and it stars Buffy the Vampire Slayer's Sarah Michelle Gellar. Not everybody in Canada can watch The CW channel and no Canadian broadcaster seems to have acquired the series, which is odd. Gellar plays identical twins, Bridget and Siobhan. One disappears and the other takes on the persona of the disappeared one. They're identical, see, so the disappeared one's husband doesn't even notice that he's shacked up with Siobhan, not Bridget. Or vice-versa. It is utterly fabulous melodrama, with a fifties-era feel to it. Hysteria abounds and the tension is massive. In fact it's a tad kinky and everyone involved is having enormous fun.
Check local listings.