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The Royals S01E03: We Are Pictures, or Mere Beasts; Review by Robin Franson Pruter

the_royalsOriginally aired on 29 March 2015
Written by Mark Schwahn
Directed by Arlene Sanford

Starring Elizabeth Hurley, William Moseley, Alexandra Park, Merritt Patterson, and Tom Austen

My rating: ★★ stars

Episode is trashy and uneven but offers some entertaining moments.

With this episode, The Royals settles into its groove as a campy, frothy soap that is unabashedly trashy. It’s fashion week in London, and Princess Eleanor decides to upstage her mother, by presenting a fashion show on the same night as Queen Helena’s annual event.

The episode is helped immensely by a story that puts Eleanor and Helena at the forefront. Alexandra Park and Elizabeth Hurley are easily the two strongest performers and present the biggest personalities. Park, a relatively unknown Australian actress, clearly proves that she’s the breakout star of the show. She has so much vibrancy and energy that the TV screen doesn’t seem big enough to contain her.

Hurley has a nice scene with Vincent Regan as the king and queen discuss parenting styles. The king admonishes the queen for opposing Eleanor the first time their wayward daughter shows enthusiasm for something that’s not self-destructive. The queen argues that Eleanor works harder when she has an adversary. She does spur Eleanor to shine, but the way she absolutely destroys Eleanor’s sense of accomplishment at the end of the episode is pointlessly cruel.

The series creator, Mark Schwahn, seems to show some understanding that the storyline he’s written about Jasper’s blackmail of Eleanor may unsettle some of the audience members. So, at the beginning of the episode, he has Jasper clearly state that, if Eleanor doesn’t want to be with him, she can always press her panic alarm. But Schwahn misses the point entirely that coercion includes more than just mere physical force. Nevertheless, during this episode, the nature of their situation changes. Jasper’s actions in the line of duty put his job in jeopardy, and Eleanor protects it, telling him that she doesn’t want to win their game on a “technicality.” There’s no way for Schwahn to save this storyline from being tone-deaf and inappropriate, but, at least, it’s less unpalatable now that we see that Eleanor is a willing participant.

Prince Liam has little to do in this episode, not being involved in the fashion show plot. He and his father meet with the anti-monarchists, and he shows his callowness. William Moseley does not impress as the young prince. In these early episodes, he shows no charisma or presence.

Liam’s best scene this episode comes at the end when Prince Cyrus informs his nephew that he was responsible for keeping Liam’s name out of the papers when he got into a car accident with his ex-girlfriend. The reason this scene works is Jake Maskall’s performance as Cyrus. He does a great job of conveying what it means to be the “spare,” which Liam had been before he became the “heir.”

I don’t understand Cyrus as a parent. He shows absolutely no paternal feelings whatsoever toward his daughters, Princess Maribel and Princess Penelope. Queen Helena calls them “Tweedledumb and Tweedledumber,” and Cyrus doesn’t appear to care. He even seems willing to post highly invasive intimate pictures of them online in order to get them to reveal a relatively inconsequential bit of information. As characters, Maribel and Penelope belong in a sitcom. They’re supposed to be stupid, but they are so dumb, crass, and inappropriate as to seem almost mentally challenged.

Ophelia, the regular American-raised girl we’re supposed to root for, has given up her interest in Prince Liam for the moment. In this episode, she meets unexceptional nice guy, Nick, whose sole purpose is to provide her a glimpse of normality to contrast with the prince’s life. We know Nick is only a distraction, so there’s no momentum to this story. We’ve seen it before. The heroine is unsure of the guy she’s supposed to be with, so she finds a dull, normal guy to hang out with for a while. It’s only a matter of time before he’s tossed aside like Ralph Bellamy, the actor known for playing the “dull, normal guy” dumped in favor of the more interesting hero in the films of the ‘30s and ‘40s. I wish writers would realize how bored we are with seeing this play out over and over and over again.

With this episode, The Royals falls securely into the E! niche. We see extended scenes of fashion. Nothing—even coerced sex and drunk driving—is taken too seriously. None of the storylines is complex or challenging. There are some jokes about waxing and anal bleaching. The soundtrack features far too many current popular songs played at too loud a volume. This is not quality television. However, it should have enough appeal for the young female viewers E! is aiming for, even if it sends them bad or confusing messages about the issues of drinking responsibly and what constitutes consensual sex.

 

STUFF THAT BOTHERS ONLY ME

The action that gets Jasper in trouble is one of the common clichés in narratives that defy reality. Prince Liam is passenger when his drunken ex-girlfriend Gemma crashes her car. Protocol requires the prince to be extricated from the scene, but Liam doesn’t want to leave Gemma. Liam’s personal bodyguard remains unsure what to do when Jasper takes over, punching Liam unconscious and carrying him away. In real life, people can’t just be conveniently knocked unconscious. Any injury that results in loss of consciousness is serious and requires medical attention. It’s a cheap narrative ploy to get characters out of the way when it’s convenient.

Also, using “disrespect” as a verb is American slang, not proper English usage. A British royal like Prince Liam would not use it during a formal meeting.

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