‘The Royals’: A Noble Effort at a Hit Scripted Show
Fame, power and scandal — what’s not to love? E!’s first original scripted series The Royals, which premiered March 15, has all the familiar, yet still tantalizing ingredients to make it your new guilty pleasure. Granted, it’s no high art or even a runaway success like Gossip Girl or Real Housewives, but like its predecessors, you will find yourself compelled each week to escape into the lifestyles of the rich and famous — or at least for the first few episodes, if only to see whether the storyline continues to spiral in a downward direction or suddenly rises up and surprises us all.
The series follows a fictional British royal family led by domineering Queen Helena (Elizabeth Hurley) and King Simon (Vincent Regan). However, when tragedy strikes, the king considers tossing tradition out the window entirely — an idea that is met with puzzled looks and inane comments (a line about Justin Bieber’s trousers comes to mind).
Creator Mark Schwahn utilizes all the popular tricks up his sleeve from his days of producing the CW soap sensation One Tree Hill — intrigue, juicy twists, plus the archetypal overprivileged, status-obsessed characters that we love to hate and hate to love. But due to mediocre dialogue and the actors’ overall inability to deliver their lines with some gusto and authenticity, it seems Schwahn’s noble efforts fall somewhat flat.
The Royals opens as the heir to the throne, Prince Robert, has died in a mysterious military accident, thrusting his bewildered younger brother and partying playboy Liam (William Moseley) into the throes of responsibility and duty. But Liam isn’t the only one in the spotlight. He shares it with his cheeky, debauched sister Princess Eleanor (Alexandra Park), whose gossip-generating antics are the pathetic cries out for help and attention that we’ve seen time and time again (with want for ingenuity). Serena van der Woodsen comes to mind, who, like Eleanor, is the “it-girl” that seems to have it all, but is really hiding behind her party girl reputation.
Queen Helena has a lot on her plate, and does her best to keep her unruly children in line. But with Hurley’s lack of conviction, it’s no wonder even they don’t take her threats seriously.
In the midst of all this anarchy, King Simon is the reserved, upstanding patriarch and the sole (convincing) voice of reason in this dysfunctional family. Unlike the rest, he leads with his heart (and not a personal agenda), which is why he seeks to abolish the monarchy in an attempt to save his family from its degenerate ways (and to give Liam, who he sees as unfit for the throne, a chance at love and a normal life).
Speaking of which, what would any story be without a star-crossed romance between the prince and the pauper? But the pallid courting between Liam and commoner Ophelia (Merritt Patterson), the daughter of the royal family’s security chief who also happens to live in the palace, fails to make sparks fly and capture our hearts.
The show may center on royalty, but this is definitely no whimsical Cinderella tale.
Patterson has that girl-next-door (literally) appeal and sweet demeanor, however, her attributes end there, for she fails to inspire any genuine feeling. Moseley (who has graduated from king of Narnia in the Chronicles of Narnia trilogy to future king of England) is slightly nobler at best, his charisma carrying the duo.
The cast is rounded out by the king’s younger brother Prince Cyrus (Jake Maskall), a perverted leech who plays the quintessential villain (and closely resembles Gossip Girl’s own immoral Chuck Bass, though without the same flare and charming wit), and his two bumbling idiot daughters, whose only source of comic relief comes from when they stumble off-screen. Their jokes of fannies and bad breath are just as shallow as they are.
We all know that The Royals won’t be the most thought-provoking production, but the reason these aforementioned themes and arch characters are revisited so often in fiction is because, most of the time, they work. There are some trivial amusements — mostly due to Eleanor’s snide remarks and tell-it-like-it-is attitude, often at the expense of Prince Cyrus’ idiot offspring. Yet such microscopically entertaining moments are not substantial enough to save the entire show.
With Hurley at the helm, though, the series — which already has been picked up for a second season — has some potential. Her impressive track record as an actress does grant her a certain stage presence — but so far, she is just good for disgusted snarls and leering, eyeliner-heavy eyes. Perhaps it is a bit unfair, but we’ve come to expect more from the woman who portrayed Diana Payne on Gossip Girl with vigor, class and conviction.
On the outside, The Royals may seem like it has a recipe for success: expensive fashion, opulent (green-screened) settings and petty power struggles. This time, however, all that glitz and glamour is not enough to make up for the lackluster performances and unconvincing melodrama. There’s everything you’d want in a series, from sentimentality and scandal, to romance and ridicule, to treachery and trash. Nevertheless, like King Simon’s radical idea, The Royals generates little excitement.
If fun, mind-numbing nonsense is what you’re looking for, then this show is for you. As for the rest of us, it’s time to plot a hostile takeover.
The Royals airs Sunday nights at 10pm EST on E! Missed the first episode? You can watch it online on E! by clicking here.