E!’s very first completely original scripted series is THE ROYALS, which premiered this week. It tells the story of a fictional British monarchy, and how they are rocked when the heir to the throne dies. It’s a soapy guilty pleasure show of the rich behaving badly, a mix of comedy and drama, and though my expectations were admittedly very low going in, it’s actually pretty enjoyable.
Early in the pilot, we meet Prince Liam (William Moseley, The Chronicles of Narnia films) and Princess Eleanor (Alexandra Park, Home and Away), the younger two siblings of the royal family. Both are partying and drinking and generally behaving as we see all spoiled rich kids behave in shows such as this. THE ROYALS is like Gossip Girl with accents and fewer secrets. While the instinct of many viewers will be to smack them across the face, the fact that they fit a societal trend speaks to larger issues. I don’t know if this show is the one to tackle those; probably not.
But then we hear about the death of their brother, the crown prince, who is the ‘good’ one of the group, perishing a military hero. This changes their world completely and provides the catalyst for the central plot. Liam is most affected, now being the next in line when his father, King Simon (Vincent Regan, Atlantis), dies. Liam immediately sees that he’s been a bit too wild, his behavior not befitting the role he has been granted, and tries to settle down with his one-night stand, the head of security’s daughter, Ophelia (Merritt Patterson, Ravenswood).
On one hand, Liam’s change must not be too drastic. While he clearly like to party, the family takes him seriously, especially his father, and don’t seem all that surprised he would want to be in a relationship. On the other, I feel like THE ROYALS sets up a different Liam in the first few minutes than we get for the rest of the episode, which is too bad. Maybe he’s just a normal kid, mostly good, but who lets off a little steam every now and then. If that is the case, it’s not all that apparent.
Simon tells his family he is thinking of asking Parliament to dissolve the royal family. It’s time, from a cultural standpoint. It also gives his kids the chance at a normal life and happiness, he certainly not having found it as King. This gives Liam, who seems to want to be the ruler, or at least feels obligated to be, more motivation to be who he should. It also indicates Simon feels trapped, perhaps by his marriage to the bitchy Queen Helena (Elizabeth Hurley, Gossip Girl, Austin Powers), perhaps by the things that keep him from being a simple fisherman.
Simon and Liam are compelling characters that I’m interested in. Ophelia is a little much in how she rises to Helena’s bait, but really, these three will be the heroes ofthat we root for. There is interesting pathos here, all of them having lost someone close to them (Ophelia’s mother died because she was near the royals). Toss in Ophelia’s father, Ted (Oliver Milburn, Driving Lessons), and there’s a show here I want to watch.
I’m on the fence about Princess Eleanor. Her damage is sadder, as she turns to drugs and sex as a way to act out and exert influence. Yet, when a guard named Jasper (Tom Austen, The Borgias) shows her how easy it is to get the upper hand because Eleanor is her own worst enemy, I feel bad for the girl. She is practically screaming for help and no one is giving it to her. She’s a tragic character that I expect a good growth arc from over the course of the series.
The aforementioned Helena and Simon’s brother, Cyrus (Jake Maskall, EastEnders), are the evil characters that cause all the trouble. Helena immediately sets herself up as a foe to Ophelia, and Cyrus, a live-action Scar, pulls a gun on Simon’s back in a too-obvious way. While The Royals will do well to keep the over-the-top danger and manipulation going, pulling back on the outward appearance of it from these two will do it good. It should also figure out how to use the comic relief characters, Cyrus’ daughters Maribel (Hatty Preston) and Penelope (Lydia Rose Bewley, Plebs), a little better.
THE ROYALS is far from a perfect show. Some of the characters are a little flat and it goes for a larger-than-life feel, which seems more of a gimmick than a style. But it’s far higher quality than anything else the network is offering (with the exception of the drastically different, hilarious The Soup), and I’d rather E! actually admit to airing scripted dramas instead of pretending their shows are ‘reality.’ In all, THE ROYALS is better than I expected it to be, and I’m interested enough to watch a second episode.
THE ROYALS airs Sundays at 10 p.m. ET on E!
CHIEF TELEVISION CRITIC | Creator of and writer for It's All Been Done Radio Hour live show and podcast. A voracious reader wanting to tell stories of his own, Jerome began writing around the age of 8 and hasn’t stopped, both original works and television reviews. Lives in central Ohio. Favorite current shows include The Walking Dead, Jessica Jones, Flaked, Outlander, and Archer.