'The Royals' series premiere recap: 'Stand and Unfold Yourself'
Scandals, sex, and a death set a royal standard in E’s first scripted drama.
If you had any doubts whether Elizabeth Hurley could convincingly wear the crown as Britain’s HBIC, put them to rest: E! first scripted drama offers Hurley a platform to do what she does best, arching her eyebrow just so (basically as much as Botox will allow), showing off her ridiculously toned curves (#fitspo alert!) and offering bitchy one liners that cement her character’s reputation as a queen whom you don’t want to cross.
Just a few minutes into the show, it becomes clear that while Queen Helena may be the fairest in all the land, Royals is very much an ensemble show with a cast of royal relatives who have more in common than the scandalous set from Gossip Girl than the real-life bunch over at Buckingham Palace. Here’s the cast, by way of a royal introduction:
King Simon (Vincent Regan): He’s kind and affectionate toward his children, probably as a way to compensate for his wife’s taste for tyranny. He’s a loveable dad, but the type you largely ignore—kinda like Gossip Girl’s Rufus.
Prince Liam (William Moseley): With his chiseled abs and artfully tousled hair, this royal could pass for the sixth member of 1D. I’m sure that made some of you swoon—but wait, there’s more: Though he’s slightly misguided, he has good intentions. And oh, he has a taste for women and a well-drawn pint.
Princess Eleanor (Alexandra Park): A stylish rebel with a taste for sexy miniskirts and silver sequined dresses. Also noteworthy? Liam’s twin has a taste for threesomes, which seems to signify that there’ll be lots of sex in this scripted series.
Prince Cyrus (Jake Maskall): Fans of Gossip Girl will recognize that this character is really just Chuck, all grown up and with a much greater streak of self-loathing and ambition. (And with a more expansive necktie collection.) He’s conniving and I should add, suspiciously good at handling firearms.
Princesses Penelope (Lydia Rose Bewley) and Maribel (Hatty Preston): This pair of clueless cousins—Cyrus’ daughters—provides comedic foil to the highborn royal heirs. Awkward with red hair, they’re totally reminiscent of real-life royal cousins Beatrice and Eugenie.
No upstairs is complete without the downstairs, and rounding out the show’s characters are Oliver Milburn as Ted, the head of royal security and his British-born, American-raised daughter Ophelia (played by Merritt Patterson).
Now, onto the decadence, secrets, and sex. The show begins with Liz, who contemplates royal engagements in a lacy dress. Her schedule for the day includes dress fittings and some face time with Sir Elton John, who wants to pop “round and say ‘hello.’” That provokes her first one-liner of the night: “You give someone a royal title and they treat the place as if it’s a Starbucks.” Burn.
Just as quickly as we’ve been introduced to Queen Helena, the sequence shifts to Liam, who’s throwing darts at some sort of pub. “Some things in life are meant to be savored,” he says. “Like a cold drink, time with your mates, and “a woman in your bed.” Ugh, so he’s a douche. He glances around the room and Ophelia catches his eye. They immediately start hooking up in a random corner of the pub and though he’s shadowed by security, she’s a smart cookie: Why settle for a make-out session when you could snuggle in a prince’s bed? They head off to take their activities, um, somewhere more private, but just as Liam’s raising his head off her perky little posterior the next morning, a security guard alerts Prince Liam—he’s wanted by mummy.
He sets off running to meet the rest of the royals, including Eleanor, who’s just flown in from Paris following some scandalous behavior. (Note to self: dancing on a table in 6-inch stilettos + a miniskirt = inevitable crotch shot.)
Tragic news: the Queen’s eldest son Robert—whom we’ve never met—has died during a military exercise. It would be positively peasant-like to exhibit grief, and the rest of the episode devotes itself to exploring how each member of the royal family deals with the death.
NEXT: Attitude, served rare
Half the horror in being a royal lies in the fact that appearances are everything, so when Liam strays from his scripted statement about his brother—who “wasn’t afraid to be his own man”—in the eyes of mummy dearest, he’s seriously screwed up. “My God, you wretched brat… you can’t find the decorum, the civility to honor his memory. What is wrong with you?”
I feel like I can hear echoes of Lily reprimanding Serena in this, but what comes next is even better: When Liam and Eleanor accuse their mom of being made of stone, she alternately calls her daughter a “little bitch” and then proceeds to slap her son across the face. “At least I’m not slumming with the help,” she says of her son’s latest conquest. “And she’s so plain.”
And where’s dad in all this? He’s waving to the crowd as only a British royal can, humbly grieving with his people in a way that makes for an oh-so-perfect photo op. He’s the only member of the family who seems to fulfill his public duty in regal fashion; in short, he’s not like Uncle Cyrus who wrinkles his nose at the thought of actually interacting with a low-born. (“One can practically smell them from here,” says Cyrus in one scene.)
The royal funeral leads into a big elaborate dinner scene at the castle. Everyone’s there—even Ophelia. Even though she and Liam come from “different worlds” (how very Shakespearean!), there’s something real there, and so Liam’s invited her over.
Is there anything better than bitchy quips over quail? While the princess-cousins pass drugs back and forth to each other under the table, Liam introduces his new lady love. Turns out she’s studying art history and dance at Churchill. See! She’s not just a gold digger! This earns an eye roll from Helena, who’s dressed in her version of mourning, black Herve Leger. But never mind, enough about the peasant. King Robert has an announcement: He wants to ask Parliament for a referendum to abolish the monarchy. That means that some people at the table may actually have to get jobs and that Britain could become a democracy like America, or even worse, Canada.
“They can’t make us Canadian, can they daddy? Canadian and poor, and dressed like Justin Bieber?” asks one of the crazy-stupid cousins.
But abdication doesn’t mean a thang to Ophelia—she has real problems. Like the fact that her dad—the royal head of security—hasn’t exactly signed off on her dating Prince Liam. And he’s not in favor of the match: He’s worried that by getting close to the royal family, Ophelia will put herself in danger. After all, her mother died because of her proximity to the royals—but Ophelia argues that it isn’t the same thing.
Meanwhile, Princess Eleanor is amusing herself by working on a representation of the Union Jack flag with red, white, and blue-wrapped condoms when Thing 1 and Thing 2 enter bearing drugs. Off to get high in the royal reception room they go! But while this trio prefers drugs, creepy Uncle Cyrus has other vices, namely harassing poor maids for sexual favors.
“I’m simply looking for a token display of dedication in a service capacity,” he tells the maid. “Besides, even the President of the United States said it wasn’t sex… now remember, enthusiasm counts.”
Meanwhile, the king—after enjoying some of the Prime Minister’s whipped cream pie (kudos whoever makes a recipe for this and posts it online!—finally has his one–on-one with his wife following his big announcement. She doesn’t want him to give up his crown, but he thinks that its weight will crush them all eventually. So deep, right?
NEXT: Our American girl shows off her independent streak
It seems like nothing Helena can say will change his mind, so in the morning she heads off to face a situation she knows she can control: She’s going to squash her son’s relationship with Ophelia. This should be easy, right? But Ophelia is American! She’s feisty! She’s outspoken!
“The thing is I wasn’t even planning on seeing your son again, that is, until you insisted on girl talk and threatened my father,” says Ophelia. “You’re the Queen of England, I get it. But your son is your problem, not mine.” To her credit, Ophelia doesn’t even bat an eyelash when Queen Helena threatens to fire her father if she continues her relationship with Liam. But Helena should know better—I mean, hasn’t she seen Titanic? Tearing a young couple apart will only spark teenage hormones, lady. Even Ophelia’s dad recognizes this scenario from the pages of British literature, and more likely, realizes if Ophelia snags her man, he’ll never have to work again. Ka-ching!
While all this is happening, Eleanor heads to Paris with her bodyguard Jasper in tow. Several pills and a twirl on a tabletop later, she wakes up in bed with Jasper and a mysterious brunette.
Jasper: “What do you remember from last night, anyway?”
Eleanor: “Nothing. You were perfectly forgettable.”
Jasper: “It’s just that I remember everything well.”
Eleanor: “Like I said, you’re very welcome.”
Jasper: “See I remember being at the club. And I remember the drugs that I put in your drink. And I remember every sordid, depraved self-loathing thing you did after that. You know why I won’t forget? I can always just watch the video. So I think I’ll keep this job.”
That’s what I like to call a heaping serving of blackmail, served ice-cold.
But it’s not all tawdry sex tapes and tantric threesomes. In fact, the next scene is kind of sweet. Liam visits Ophelia and asks her out on a date—that thing where two people get together and talk. (Sidenote: Did she really switch from studying her notebook to pretending to study her phone? Ew. Heaven forbid she seem smart.) Anyway, the very next day—at this point we’re so outside reality of modern-day dating—he makes good on his invitation. “Here’s the thing: It might get a little crazy out there,” he warns Ophelia, who looks particularly smug and perfectly coiffed. But no matter. Nothing—even the paps and a pouting queen—will keep these two kids from their dirty chai lattes with soy.
Liz’s best lines:
- On asking her daughter to explain her latest scandal: “My daughter the princess, behaving like a common whore. But go on, amuse me. Explain this disgrace, but please, make it original this time.”
- On emphasizing her grief over her first-born son’s death: “You are a little bitch… I’m inconsolable.”
- On learning Ophelia is a double-major in dance and art history: “I’m sure you’ll be twerking your way to a great future.”
- On her husband’s decision to abdicate the throne: “It’s out of character for you to speak so recklessly about the family …and frankly, it’s weak.”
- Telling her husband about her terrible, horrible, no good, very bad week: “Let me recap my week for you. My daughter’s vagina was on the cover on no less than four tabloids. My first-born child was killed. My husband announced he wants to abolish the only life I’ve ever known. And his footman nearly saw my snatch.”
Did The Royals satisfy your craving for sexy British scandal? It’s clear there will be a “forbidden” love story line—but will Liam and Ophelia last? Will the king’s resolution pass? And what exactly is Uncle Cyrus capable of? Any ideas on what will happen next?