March 23, 2015

SHOWBUZZDAILY Pilot + 1 Review: “The Royals”


THE ROYALS:  Sunday 10PM on E!

A lot can happen between the creation of a TV pilot and the production of regular episodes: writer/producers may be hired or fired, audience focus groups weigh in, networks and studios (which may have had their own turnover) give plenty of notes, helpful and otherwise, and critics start to rear their ugly heads. Tone, pace, casting, and even story can change. Here at SHOWBUZZDAILY, we look past the pilots and present reviews of the first regular season episodes as well.

Previously… on THE ROYALS:  The (fictional) British monarchy is a mess.  The Prince of Wales has died in mysterious circumstances, and the next in line to the crown is now his brother Prince Liam (William Moseley), who’s falling for Ophelia (Merritt Patterson), the raised-in-America commoner daughter of the royal head of security (Oliver Milburn).  Liam’s twin sister Eleanor (Alexandra Park) is a party girl who’s currently being blackmailed with a sex tape by her bodyguard Jasper (Tom Austen).  Royal Uncle Cyrus (Jake Maskall) is a bisexual, drug-abusing roue whose spawn are the imbecilic Penelope (Lydia Rose Bewley) and Maribel (Hatty Preston).  Queen Helena (Elizabeth Hurley) is a stone-cold bitch.  And King Simon (Vincent Regan) is so disgusted by it all that he’s ready to call for an act of Parliament to scuttle the monarchy entirely.

Episode 2:  The second hour of The Royals, written and directed by series creator Mark Schwahn, was as airheaded as the pilot.  It only advanced the narrative ball by introducing Gemma (Sophie Colquhoun), Liam’s aristocratic ex and the Queen’s preferred choice as his consort.  She’s a schemer who’ll figure in the plot as the counterpoint to sweet Ophelia, whose attempt to show Gemma a thing or two by drinking her under the table resulted in Gemma passing out and throwing up in front of Liam, in both cases supposedly endearingly.  Although the rules of the rom-com/soap game require that Liam and Ophelia have their happily ever after postponed indefinitely, there’s no question who the ultimate winner is supposed to be.

The rest of the storylines received relatively glancing notice:  the relationship between Eleanor and Jasper was developed as a cross between extortion and vaguely S&M romance; Cyrus seduced and blackmailed a supposedly straight member of Parliament; Helena was revealed to have a lover.  Silliest of all, palace maid Prudence (Poppy Corby-Tuech), last seen being forced into oral sex by Cyrus, and in this episode aided by the king in putting together garden party tartlets, is apparently some kind of revolutionary, with a gun in her bag.  (So much for palace security.)

The Royals is too arch and over-the-top (and in some cases indifferently acted) to work as drama, but it doesn’t have enough wit to serve as a sophisticated comedy, either.  It plays as a strained exercise in camp that every so often tries to be earnest, mostly in the scenes between Ophelia and Liam, or when the King is around.  At the end of the hour, Liam, having been inspired by Ophelia’s confidence in him, went to his father to ask for a chance to prove himself as a potential monarch, and despite all we’d seen to date about the utter wastefulness and irrelevance of the institution, not to mention Liam’s own limitations, this was supposed to be a good thing.

Suffice it to say that if the British crown had no more than its depiction in The Royals to justify its continued existence, it would be time to lease out Buckingham Palace to a hotel chain.  As for the series itself, despite mediocre premiere ratings that lost most of its lead-in, E!’s first scripted series is safe for now, thanks to a Season 2 order that preceded the launch.  That could conceivably give The Royals a chance to find a workable tone and improve, although nothing thus far inspires much hope for its coronation.

ORIGINAL VERDICT:  Change the Channel

PILOT + 1:  To the Tower of London With All of Them!

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."