Everyone is getting into the original content game, including E! network.
Best known for celebrity sightings and slummings, such as "Keeping up With the Kardashians" and "Total Divas," the cabler is diving into its first scripted effort.
“The Royals,” which debuted March 15, is a delicious, over-the-top cheap thrill. Like "Dallas," but for monarchs. Created by Mark Schwahn, the story of the current English monarchy is a modern-day soap opera with Shakespearean-style characters, salacious scandals and zippy dialogue.
In fact, it’s worth watching just for Elizabeth Hurley’s performance as the queen. One almost expects a “snap!” after each perfectly delivered putdown.
The real-life British royals may sell magazines -- especially William and Kate -- and engender an odd form of American obsession, but next to their fictional E! counterparts, they just “yadda yadda yadda” their tenure.
Conversely, the House of Out of Control sports a line of aristocratic wastrels — with the occasional good intention — whose antics are one-upped with each episode. And just to keep the Millennials interested, a freshly scrubbed romance is hinted at between the heir-apparent, Liam, and Ophelia, the daughter of the palace’s security chief. It’s unclear how things will turn out, but judging from “Hamlet,” Ophelia is not the go-to name for happy endings.
But enough about what-ifs.
As Queen Helena, Hurley plays the stunning matriarch of a brood of decadent offspring. She’s Lady Macbeth meets Hamlet’s mother, with a dollop of Cruella De Vil thrown in for good measure. No one spits out the words “whore” or “bitch” with classier venom or hisses “walk away” to staff with more studied arrogance. And no one exits a room with better posture. Most of us slump; this woman strides like Britannia. It must be all those years of modeling.
Her children, Liam and Eleanor, are attractive but wild, while her brother-in-law Cyrus (Jake Maskall), a flamboyant version of Richard III, lives for sex, drugs and, one assumes, nasty plots. He’s the spare to the crown’s heir, King Simon. Where Simon is weary — “heavy the head that wears the crown” — Cyrus’ lust for power seeps from every pore.
There should be a special awards category for his outlandish sartorial splendor! He’s “Brideshead"'s Anthony Blanche, sans conscience. Plus, he’s sired two of the dumbest aristocrats ever to grace Buckingham Palace. Or as Princess Eleanor brands them: “Slag 1 and Slag 2.”
I’m doubtful Queen Elizabeth is amused, but the rest of E’s viewers may be. Where “Downton Abbey” presents the shift in Edwardian values and explores changing class and gender distinctions, “The Royals” indulges our fantasies of abundance and reckless living.
Of course, given Prince Harry’s Las Vegas sprees and his dressing up as a Nazi at a fancy dress party, E! isn’t far off the mark. King Edward VIII, Harry's great-great uncle, was also a playboy — and a Nazi sympathizer. (Abdication turned out to be a blessing.)
At least no one from “The Royals,” to date, has paraded around in a Wehrmacht uniform. They are more likely to fly off to Paris for illicit sex or scheme to upstage each other. A royal catfight is the stuff of prime time; donning the garb of genocidal killers is left to actual princes.
Which is why we should temper our royal fervor; the monarchy is the antithesis of American democratic ideals, where assumed merit, not birth, rules. Never mind the enormous expenses born by the British public. Still, if you want to see “royals” in action, stick with the fictional version. They borrow from the tabloids, but it’s all in trashy fun.
E! is so enthralled, it’s already picked up “The Royals” for a second season. No doubt it deems its initial foray into original fare a crowning success.