“The Royals” has as much to do with the British Monarchy as “Scandal” has to do with the U.S. Presidency, which is about as much as “SpongeBob SquarePants” has to do with oceanography. Still, this unabashedly silly soap has rather cleverly put E! into the scripted-series game, with a drama as outlandish and fabricated as most of the channel’s reality shows. Granted, series creator Mark Schwahn works a little too hard at delivering the regal version of OMG moments, but those who bought into season one probably won’t be disappointed with this latest trip ’round Buckingham Palace.
For those who might have forgotten what they previously saw (and it was certainly lightweight enough so as not to stick to one’s ribs), “The Royals” began with the current king announcing his intentions to do away with the monarchy. This didn’t sit very well with either his wife (Elizabeth Hurley) or his power-hungry brother Cyrus (Jake Maskall, who should win some kind of award for maintaining an unrelenting sneer), leading to the king’s untimely death, and the ascent of Cyrus to the throne he so covets as the season ended.
Of course, it’s not like the crown carries any real power, but when you have the audacity to blackmail the prime minister, well, things are going to get done. Besides, Maskall feels like the program’s breakout character, so the promotion shrewdly gives him more of an opportunity to alternately rage and scheme.
Meanwhile, the king’s two surviving children, Liam (William Moseley) and Eleanor (Alexandra Park), are now thrown into a more active role, determined as they are to ascertain what happened to dear old dad, and avenge him, which motivates Liam more than the prospect of any formal duties.
All of that, really, is window dressing, since “The Royals” is about chewing scenery — or in Cyrus’ case, dining on swan because, as Mel Brooks would say, it’s good to be king. Throw in the cameos by Joan Collins as the Queen’s mum and the bed-hopping shenanigans, and there’s certainly enough going on in the first few episodes to keep an audience distracted, if not consistently entertained.
Indeed, Schwahn (who wrote and directed the premiere) continues to indulge in certain stylistic choices that prove almost teeth-gnashing, abusively and heavy-handedly using song montages to advance the narrative and set the mood. Nor does the story really sustain the palace intrigue, instead giving off a sense of a show designed for the easily distracted, where go-nowhere detours are permissible provided that everyone looks great and says saucy things.
For all that, E! has managed to develop a drama that rather neatly dovetails with the antics of the Kardashians, while peripherally tapping into US Weekly’s second-favorite topic. “The ascension of the fallen king’s son is so predictable, it’s boring,” Cyrus hisses at Liam when the lad confronts him.
“The Royals” doesn’t ascend very high on the rung of cable dramas. But to its credit, the show isn’t entirely predictable, and even at its most ridiculous, it’s almost never boring.