May 17, 2015

SHOWBUZZDAILY Season Finale Review: “The Royals”


History will record that on the same night the curtain rang down for Mad Men, THE ROYALS also concluded its season.  As utterly different as the two shows are, The Royals is one of the many cable scripted series that probably wouldn’t exist if Mad Men hadn’t proven how valuable a single drama can be in turning around the branding (and subscriber revenue) of a network, for example Bravo, BBC America, Sundance, and in this case as the first scripted series in E!’s history.

The Royals wasn’t out to change E!’s brand so much as solidify it, spreading its franchise of glitzy scandal to another TV realm.  While extremely guilty, it’s been at times rather pleasurable, although tonight’s season finale, written and directed by series creator Mark Schwahn, wasn’t the show at its “best”.

The hour took itself very seriously, which is a bad idea for The Royals, because it shines a light on the generally mannequin-like acting and tin-eared dialogue of the piece.  Although Elizabeth Hurley, as the duplicitous Queen of England, has managed to find surprising amounts of ambiguity in her role, and Alexandra Park has shown some spark as her wild-child daughter Princess Eleanor, the rest of the cast is mostly prettier than they are believable.  And scratch one good actor from the cast after tonight’s episode, since King Simon (Vincent Regan), died of his still-mysterious wounds inflicted several episodes ago.  That left his brother, the former Prince Cyrus (Jake Maskall), as the presumptive new monarch, and while Maskall gives the role his all, Cyrus is a very curious figure for 21st-century TV, a throwback bisexual villain who’s all bitchery and sneaky scheming.  He’s about five degrees north of camp, and with him on the throne (and unaware that his brief assignation with a court maid may be making him a daddy), The Royals is likely to be even more of an unintentional comedy next season than it’s been so far.

The other major plotline of the episode had Eleanor’s twin Prince Liam (William Mosely)–he and Eleanor were recently removed from the royal succession after a fake DNA test “proved” they weren’t the King’s biological children– sacrificing his own happiness to deliver his lady-love Ophelia (Merritt Patterson) to a dance audition in New York, where unbeknownst to either of them, Liam’s ex Gemma (Sophie Colquhoun) had arranged for her to be hired, thus keeping the soul-mates apart.  Mosely, Patterson and Colquhoun are among the performers who are best when they’re not speaking, so keeping them separate isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  Meanwhile, it’s starting to look as though the attack on the King and also what turned out to be the pre-series murder of Eleanor and Liam’s older brother Robert are related to some kind of dark conspiracy, which has its own apparently professionally-designed logo but is otherwise sketchy for now.

None of these storylines are enough to make one anxious for The Royals to return, but when the series is humming along, it’s nevertheless enjoyable enough in its dumb way to keep one watching.  The ratings, while nowhere near its Keeping Up With the Kardashians lead-in, have been strong (and consistent) enough to justify the show’s renewal, and rather than waiting for next spring, E! will return it to the air in November.

When Matthew Weiner looks at the panoply of cable dramas that have followed in the footsteps of his masterwork, he must shake his head in disbelief.  The Royals is very far from that truly imperial bloodline, but then even the most insignificant kingdom needs a monarch.


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."