Poor Little Rich Girl? Check. Poor Outsider Suddenly Thrown into a World of Excess? Double check.
The Royals is everything that’s been missing from your life since Gossip Girl and The O.C. ended their respective runs. While there have been worthy contenders to the throne since then (90210, The Carrie Diaries) none have been able to capture that same charm – until now.
Funnily enough, E!’s first original scripted series was actually created by Mark Schwahn, of One Tree Hill fame. While The Royals bears little resemblance (if any) to OTH, you can rest assured that one of the keepers of our mid-2000s hearts and minds has our backs in this new venture.
The series follows a fictional British royal family led by Queen Helena (Elizabeth Hurley) and King Simon (Vincent Regan). After tragedy strikes, the king considers abolishing the monarchy entirely – this idea is met well by exactly no one.
Princess Eleanor (Alexandra Park) is your standard Poor Little Rich Girl archetype whose hard partying hides a deep inner sadness. Think Marissa Cooper and even Serena van der Woodsen before she returned to New York.
Prince Liam (William Moseley) is a handsome rich guy. Like Nate Archibald, he doesn’t let his money and influence get to his head – he’s a kind soul who really just wants somebody to love. That’s where Ophelia (Merritt Patterson) comes in. She’s your Ryan Atwood, your Dan Humphrey, your wide-eyed entry into the lifestyles of the rich and famous.
Speaking of Ophelia, her father, Ted (Oliver Milburn), is an overprotective but well-meaning working-class man with a mildly rebellious streak he hides from his daughter. Like Rufus Humphrey, he is a (handsome) single father just trying to cope without the mother of his child.
God save the queen: Helena is a woman who always gets her way and has no interest in a non-royal, non-moneyed life. Like Julie Cooper, she’s perfectly happy with the status quo and will do basically anything to maintain it.
Cyrus (Jake Maskall) is King Simon’s younger brother and every Bass relative from Gossip Girl rolled into one creepy, sexually aggressive, throne-eyeing package. He thirsts for power at any cost.
Finally, Cyrus’s daughters, Penelope (Lydia Rose Bewley) and Meribel (Hatty Preston), are closest in spirit to Blair Waldorf’s minions, Kati Farkas and Isabel Coates. Like Blair’s loyal servants, Penelope and Meribel, too, are one step removed from the throne. While easily manipulated by Princess Eleanor, however, they’re not necessarily her minions so much as a welcome bit of comic relief all their own; their banter is possibly the best part of the premiere.
The reason these themes are revisited so often in fiction is because they work, and because there’s a comfort in familiarity. When watching The Royals (or its ilk), you know that you’re not embarking upon high art – it’s an escapist fantasy; harmless wish fulfillment.
Mostly harmless, anyway – two brief scenes in the premiere use sexual violence as a way of illustrating that the aggressor is a “bad guy,” as if the only way to send that message is to completely take away a woman’s power on an otherwise relatively lighthearted show about a female-led monarchy.
Still, The Royals, premiering Sunday at 10 p.m. on E!, is about to become your newest not-so-guilty pleasure.