March 16, 2015

SHOWBUZZDAILY Series Premiere Review: “The Royals”


THE ROYALS:  Sunday 10PM on E! – Change the Channel

This week’s cable network eager to expand its portfolio to the world of scripted programming is E!.  Just as Bravo attempted to appeal to its Real Housewives audience with The Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce, E! is courting its celebrity gossip crowd with THE ROYALS, a soap revolving around a fictional British monarchy.  Although it has an experienced creator/showrunner in Mark Schwahn, who was behind One Tree Hill, the pilot plays as a less accomplished, less compelling, and less well-acted version of Gossip Girl.

For all its trappings of palaces and everpresent paparazzi, the scope of The Royals is relatively narrow.  Its Britain is ruled by King Simon (Vincent Regan), a sensitive, intelligent fellow who is actively considering abolishing the monarchy altogether.  His wife Queen Helena (Elizabeth Hurley) is an aristocratic bitch, which is also a fair description of Simon’s brother, Prince Cyrus (Jake Maskall), who has two imbecilic and seemingly in-bred daughters, the Princesses Penelope (Lydia Rose Bewley) and Maribel (Hatty Preston).  Simon and Helena, for their part, are the parents of the heavily partying Liam (William Mosely) and Eleanor (Alexandra Park)–and an older son, whose off-screen death under mysterious circumstances is the event that kicks off the series.  Both Liam and Eleanor are dissipated but angst-ridden about their hollow lives, and Liam is branching out by starting a romance with Ophelia (Merritt Patterson), the half-American commoner daughter of the palace’s head of security (Oliver Milburn).  The queen royally disapproves.

All of that may make The Royals sound like more fun than it is.  The pilot’s script (by Schwahn, who also directed) is often painfully tin-eared, filled with moments where one character or another baldly spells out exactly what we should think about him or her (“I’m just a bitch with money and power,” Eleanor helpfully announces).  Its tone is uneven, with some story beats played with sincerity, while others (particularly those involving Cyrus, Penelope and Maribel) are so broad as to approach sketch comedy.  Its cast offers highly variable levels of performance:  Regan is the only one who establishes a believably human character, and while Hurley has fun with her queen’s haughty cattiness (she more or less rehearsed for the role with her recurring guest star arc on Gossip Girl itself), the younger actors are sometimes quite stiff and seemingly cast as much for their pretty, pouty looks as for their acting ability.  The show also suggests insecurity about its ability to convey emotion by lathering every moment with music, either pop songs on the soundtrack or background score.

Although Liam and Ophelia seem like a nice enough couple, there’s very little in the first hour-plus of The Royals to make one feel the need to tune in again.  The dialogue is arch without being witty, and the show only cares about the genuine issue of whether or not Britain should have a monarchy to the extent it affects its characters’ love lives.  Superficiality can be fun, but The Royals is just slick.  That doesn’t mean it will fail–E! is giving it what’s sure to be a giant lead-in from the season premiere of Keeping Up With the Kardashians, and as the renewal of Girlfriends Guide on Bravo demonstrated, networks that are trying to build up a scripted business have vested interest in declaring their first offerings to be successful, whatever the numbers say.  But while a scene in The Royals makes reference to Shakespeare’s “uneasy lie the heads” speech, here it’s more relevant to note that glazed will likely be the eyeballs of those who watch this shallow series.


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."