The HBO series “Game of Thrones,” returning for a fourth season April 6, is based on the hugely successful fantasy novel series by writer George R.R. Martin. The series is credited with making fantasy popular on television with its intense narrative and excellent performances.
It's also noted as one of the most violent and sexual programs on HBO’s line-up.
For those television viewers who like the idea of watching a long-form fantasy series made for television but are not interested in all of the mature content baggage that comes with “Game of Thrones,” here are a few recommendations for programs that provide similar concepts in a more family-friendly manner.
"Once Upon a Time"
Number of episodes: 55 (and counting)
A fun and fast-paced ensemble fantasy series that combines nearly every fairy-tale legend imaginable, “Once Upon a Time” is the only series on this list still making new episodes, and its popularity promises to keep it around for at least a few more seasons.
Created by “Lost” writers Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz, the series follows the residents of Storybrooke, Maine, a town full of fairy tale characters that have been taken from their enchanted homeland and trapped with no memory of who they were previously. Their only hope is a young boy named Henry, adopted son of the town mayor (and former Evil Queen), and his birth mother, a bail bondswoman named Emma. With an excellent cast, including “Stargate: Universe” actor Robert Carlyle, and a writing crew that finds clever ways to reinterpret and interconnect classic fairy tales, the show is an adventure series with heart and a great sense of humor.
Number of episodes: 65
Based on the mysterious magician at the heart of the tales of King Arthur, BBC’s “Merlin” follows a young Merlin as he is still learning his craft and becoming the great wizard of legend.
The series that boasts Anthony Head (from “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”) as Uther Pendragon and the great John Hurt (“Harry Potter,” “Alien,” “Doctor Who”) as the voice of The Dragon, also helped start the careers of Katie McGrath (now starring on NBC’s “Dracula”) and Asa Butterfield (“Ender’s Game,” “Hugo”). With a subtle sense of humor that never undermines the drama or the fantasy, the series plays fast and loose with the source material, but does so in an attempt to make a compelling weekly series. It succeeds.
"The Storyteller" and "The Storyteller: Greek Myths"
Number of episodes: 13
Following the successes of darker fantasy material in the films “Labyrinth” and “The Dark Crystal,” Muppets creator Jim Henson came up with the anthology fantasy television series “The Storyteller” for HBO.
Each week, The Storyteller (played by both John Hurt and Michael Gambon), with the help of his talking dog, narrates Greek and European folk tales that are brought to vivid life through stunning set design, make-up, puppetry and animation by the technicians at Jim Henson’s Creature Shop. Though there are only 13 episodes — nine of the European tales and four of the Greek myths — each episode is its own epic standalone story that makes for perfect anytime viewing and won’t leave you on a cliffhanger.
"Hercules: the Legendary Journeys"
Number of episodes: 111
The syndicated series, which began its run as several made-for-TV movies in 1994, stars Kevin Sorbo as Hercules, child of the god Zeus and a mortal woman, whose strength made him a legend, and whose friends Iolaus and Salmoneus got him into endless adventures and problems.
Though the series was eclipsed in popularity by its more successful spin-off, “Xena: Warrior Princess,” the New Zealand-produced show ran for a full six seasons, exploring every corner of the world of Greek myth, and occasionally making use of Asian, Egyptian and medieval British concepts as well. The show was as much a winking nod to audiences as a straightforward adventure series with constant modern-day references and inspired comic supporting characters, including Bruce Campbell of “Burn Notice” as Autolycus, the King of Thieves. Sharp-eyed viewers will recognize young actors who later found fame elsewhere: Lucy Liu (“Elementary”), Karl Urban (“Almost Human,” “Star Trek”), and Gina Torres (“Firefly,” “Suits”) all had recurring roles.
"Legend of the Seeker"
Number of episodes: 44
Based on fantasy author Terry Goodkind’s "Sword of Truth" book series, “Legend of the Seeker” is a serialized, and serious, fantasy adventure story that relies on excellent characters and effective imagery to carry the viewer through the series.
Taking events and characters from the books, but altering them slightly for television audiences — a similar technique to the one used by writers of “The Walking Dead,” another book adaptation — the series ran for two seasons before being canceled in 2010. With supporting turns from character actors Bruce Spence (seen in everything from “Mad Max” and “Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith” to his voice work in “Finding Nemo”) and Craig Parker (accustomed to period fantasy after roles in “Xena: Warrior Princess” and “Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers”), the series has a refreshingly straight-faced take on the genre, helping the audience to buy into a fantastical premise.
Number of episodes: 13
Shedding light on an interesting period of actual history while blending in elements of mythology and magic for the sake of entertainment, “Roar” is a great adventure series that unfortunately aired on network television and failed to find its audience fast enough.
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Based loosely on the historic era when the Celts of Ireland were struggling to free their country from Roman rule, the series follows Conor (a young Heath Ledger, in his first American acting role), an orphan heir to leadership of a Celtic clan. An impressive cast of soon-to-be famous actors, including Vera Farmiga (“Bates Motel”), Melissa George (“The Good Wife”) and Keri Russell (“Felicity,” “The Americans”) does great work with the excellent action and drama of the scripts, with beautiful location photography to top it all off.
So sharpen your swords, don your armor and enjoy these 300 hours of fantasy-adventure television that are good viewing for the whole family.
Chris Vander Kaay is a screenwriter and author who lives in Central Florida with his wife and co-writer, Kathleen.