Aiming for the sweet spot of camp, E!'s first scripted series, “The Royals,” lands in the larger and far less valuable ring of cynicism.
And cynicism is never pretty, not even when it’s Elizabeth Hurley poured into a sequin gown to play an Ivanka Trumped-up version of Princess Diana.
Which may sound absolutely fabulous but absolutely is not. Camp requires courage, and “The Royals” has none.
Created by “One Tree Hill’s” Mark Schwahn, it is so dependent on popular tween-age trends, from the Kardashians to “Twilight,” it seems genetically engineered.
Hurley plays Queen Helena as a “Real Housewives of Windsor.” Impeccably groomed with the vocabulary of a social media troll, she spends most of her non-primping time criticizing her children’s sex lives, telling her husband (the actual monarch) to man up, and reminding everyone within a 10-mile radius Who the Hell She Is.
Fun drinking game: Take a shot every time someone says “the Queen of England,” double when it’s Helena, because that’s the only way you’re going to get through an entire episode of “The Royals.” (I watched four, stone-cold sober, but then I am a professional; I knew the risks.)
The rest of the household members are equally familiar to fans of YA-glam anything. We meet the smart but doomed Princess Eleanor (Alexandra Park) while she’s coking up and getting down in Paris, her amiable twin brother, Liam (William Moseley), while he’s (gasp) playing darts and then (double gasp) having sex with a young and equally likable woman he’s only just met.
A young woman (Merritt Patterson), who looks as much like Kate Middleton as lawyers would allow, turns out to be the daughter of the head of palace security and is named Ophelia. (For the Shakespeare scholars tuning in.)
There’s also the noble King Simon (Vincent Regan) and his wickedly overdressed and bisexually predatory brother, Cyrus (where do they get these names? The Royal House of Hancock Park?). In a statelier time and series, Cyrus would have been played by Jeremy Irons, but here the honor goes to Jake Maskall, who does what he can.
All are brought together by the Shocking Death of young Prince Robert, which throws the household into various stages of grief and Liam into the kingly batter box.
Despite its manic insistence on debauchery (the show is quite Victorian in its obsession with sex), the only shocking thing about “The Royals” is that they don’t all turn out to be vampires. Certainly Eleanor is a study in Kristen Stewart, all kohl eyes peering up from the drowned depths of self loathing and carefully mussed up hair, and the interiors are, of course, “Beauty and the Beast” baroque.
Liam rebounds quickly enough to begin dating Ophelia, while his mother predictably seethes, but King Simon decides he Will Not lose another son to God and country and proposes to disband the monarchy.
While Helena goes into full caldron boil and Cyrus begins laying hands on various weaponry, the very real possibility of a good show gets kicked under the bed with all the empty wine bottles and twisty knickers. The pathos and pageantry of Britain’s actual royal family continue to mesmerize and move us — could Kate’s next baby be a girl? — while the tension between society’s need for royalty, by birth or fame, and the toll it takes on all concerned becomes more heightened with every digital advancement.
There is no good reason why “The Royals” couldn’t address this in an intelligent way and have fun too. There are moments when the show that “The Royals” could have been shines through, but they are quickly muffled by the “thrill” of seeing a girl raised in America dating a Real Live prince or hearing Helena say “vagina” and “whore” and “FML,” just as if she weren’t, you know, the Queen of England.