Elizabeth Hurley plays the Queen of England in The Royals, E!’s first scripted drama. It’s a trashy soap opera with awkward pacing, too much melodrama, and characters that are even more vapid than the ones on E!’s best-known TV series, Keeping Up With The Kardashians. The premise is ripe with potential, but I actually found the first episode to be pretty… boring.
Queen Helena’s son, Prince Liam (William Moseley from The Chronicles of Narnia) is a generic playboy who starts romancing the daughter of the royal head of security, Ophelia (Merritt Patterson). She’s American and a “commoner,” something that the first episode of The Royals definitely beats you over the head with. Meanwhile, Helena’s daughter, Eleanor (Alexandra Park), is a coked up party princess who gets berated for acting like a “whore” in front of the press.
Everyone is devastated when they find out Helena’s eldest son Robert has died in a mysterious accident, the details of which are left conspicuously absent. Helena feels like she has to keep her grief in check because she’s the Queen and Queens have to maintain their stoic image. But she might not remain Queen for very long, because her husband King Simon (Vincent Regan) wants to ask Parliament to abolish the monarchy. He doesn’t want to lose anymore of his children, as if being British royalty is some sort of life-threatening disease. And it becomes a point of contention between him and Helena, who tells him, “You’re the King of England, goddammit. Act like it.”
Although comic relief arrives in the form of Liam and Eleanor’s broadly drawn cousins, Penelope (Lydia Rose Bewley) and Maribel (Hatty Preston), the episode mainly focuses on the melodrama brought by Robert’s death. We also get creepy power dynamics with Cyrus (Jake Maskall), Simon’s brother, who’s like the royal version of Gossip Girl‘s Chuck Bass when he was still sexually assaulting young women. (Gossip Girl is a pretty good comparison for this show since the drama is just as tedious and generic.)
Ophelia’s “fairy tale love” story is probably the least interesting development in this wholly uninteresting show. She mostly exists to provide the outsider viewpoint, as the character E!’s audience can most easily relate to, but it feels contrived. Liam isn’t a very sympathetic hero and Emo Eleanor’s “woe is me” attitude is grating, which makes the blackmailing she receives at the end of the episode less impactful. The only black character is Liam’s Irish bodyguard Marcus (Ukweli Roach) — hopefully, he evolves past the “black best friend” who Liam can pile his feelings on, but I have my doubts.
Elizabeth Hurley’s Queen Helena, however, provides just the right amount of campiness — which is exactly what this show needs. It needs more boisterous, scheming, fun characters. Unfortunately, we get Liam and Ophelia’s stale interactions, Simon’s boring “introspection,” and Eleanor feeling sorry for herself. I was expecting more trashiness but you get the sense that The Royals takes itself a little too seriously. The drama feels lukewarm at best and the characters we’re expected to root for (Liam and Ophelia) are mostly unlikable. Skip it.