October 25, 2013

THE SKED Pilot + 1 Review: “Reign”


REIGN:  Thursday 9PM on CW

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 THE SKED, we’re going to look past the pilots and present reviews of the first regular season episodes as well.

Previously… on REIGN:  Before there were vampire teens or telekinetic teens or alien or witch or werewolf teens, there were royal teens.  In 1557, 15-year old Mary Queen of Scots (Adelaide Kane), hunted by her English cousins and in need of a military alliance, travels to France, where she is meant to marry the Prince, Francis (Tony Regbo), to whom she’s been betrothed since they were children.  Politics, though, threatens the match, because France doesn’t want England as an enemy either.  King Henry II (Alan Van Sprang) and the Prince’s formidable mother, Catherine de Medici (Megan Follows), want the marriage postponed if not canceled.  Nostradamus (Rossif Sutherland), the queen’s trusted advisor, has had a vision that Mary will cost Francis his life, hardening Catherine’s heart further.  She tries to have Mary undergo the 16th-century equivalents of being roofied and date raped, so that she’ll lose her virginity and be worthless as a royal bride, and then has the poor Scotsman who was forced into the attempted rape (so it wouldn’t be blamed on France) quickly beheaded before Mary can find out the truth.  Behind all of this intrigue, though, there’s a genuine spark of romance between  Mary and Francis.  And hey, how about the Prince’s hunky bastard brother Sebastian (Torrance Coombs)?

Episode 2:  That beheaded Scotsman?  Not so beheaded!  With the help of the shadowy figure known as Clarissa, whose nature is unclear but who seems to be on Mary’s side, the wrong prisoner was executed, and the Scotsman is set free.  Unfortunately for him, that quickly becomes a distinction without a difference, because soon enough Catherine has the guy killed and bled out in the woods anyway, pinning the crime on local Druids.  Making Mary more nervous:  a shipload of English in temporary residence, and an English envoy who stages an attempted poisoning (with Catherine’s help) just to let Mary know that she’s not safe anywhere.  All this has Mary ready to blow the alliance with France and head back to Scotland, but Francis tells Catherine it’s time to stop attempting to rape and kill his betrothed, and she agrees, for what that’s worth.

There was little in the way of B story in the episode, written by series co-creator Laurie McCarthy and directed by Matt Hastings, except that Mary’s lady-in-waiting Kenna (Caitlin Stasey), who had hooked up with King Henry in the pilot, will continue her illicit romance, especially now that he’s shown her that as the king’s mistress she can get a noble husband (at his command) despite her lost virtue.  A couple of brief scenes also cutely established the next royal betrothal, for Francis’s 7-year old brother.

Reign is, without doubt, trashy, and the use of modern pop songs on the soundtrack (this week featured one from The Lumineers, which was presumably written specifically for the show, considering the front credits billing the band got for it) can be distractingly off-period.  So far, though, it’s fast-moving fun, certainly as compared to the recent White Queen from Starz and the BBC.  Kane is a spunky Mary, able to stand her ground with whatever royal is challenging her, and Follows is a strong villainness.  The young men are less impressive, although van Sprang holds his own as the lusty King.  The show needs to start differentiating the ladies-in-waiting into individual characters–so far, except for Kenna, they’re an interchangeable cluster.

Reign makes a pleasant change of pace for CW amidst its parade of supernatural angst (although between Nostradamus and Sebastian, the show manages to keep its hand in the paranormal), and even though the series is now being shot in its regular Canada location, it still has a fairly rich look and feel, especially compared to the somewhat slipshod Tomorrow People.  It’s not clear, however, that CW viewers feel the same; the Reign debut had only an 0.8 rating, which would be a solid number elsewhere in the CW week, but represents a big drop from its Vampire Diaries lead-in.  If the show can hold there, it should have a future, but any further slippage will put it into dangerous territory.  While far from great drama, Reign deserves a shot at avoiding abdication.


PILOT + 1:  Unpretentious Escapist Costume Soap 

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."