Judging by the ratings, it's safe to assume that not a lot of you watched the premiere of The CW's new bodice-rippin' courtly intrigue drama Reign last night. Which is a shame! Because you know what? It's actually kinda good.
Well, OK, "good" is a pretty relative term. The show is about Mary, Queen of Scots, but don't expect something on the level of, say, Elizabeth or, uh, Elizabeth I. This is more in line with The Other Boleyn Girl. With a dash of A Knight's Tale. Meaning it's full of silly anachronisms and everyone's young and sexy and nothing is remotely believable. But! There's something undeniably sprightly and entertaining in all that absurdity. Why not have a Teen Tudors? What a grandly ridiculous idea.
The show starts with a teenage Mary as she is taken from hiding in a convent back to the French court where she spent her childhood. You see, she is betrothed to the dauphin, their intended wedding creating a powerful union between Scotland and France. The prince is, of course, now all grown up and a handsome, dashing ladies man. And of course there is the requisite "My how you've grown" blushy banter when lord and lady first see each other again. And, as is required, the prince also has a dark and handsome bastard brother, with whom young Mary has some sort of attraction/connection. Then there's the conniving queen (older women, amirite?) and her trusty vizier, sexy Nostradamus. Yes, here Nostradamus is young and handsome and broodingly does the bidding of the queen. He seems to have actual (and accurate) visions, so I guess there's a bit of magic involved in the show. Mary's ladies in waiting also have their own bits of drama, one of which ended in a beheading last night. (Not hers.) It's all a pleasantly soapy soup of lust and ambition and all that other good stuff.
And it looks great! The production values are remarkably good considering this is The CW, with special attention paid to the costumes. The dresses are essentially modern tweaks of the garments of the time, with more revealing lines than I think was customary back then. And the hair is all sultry tousle, the girls looking like Lana del Rey in a windstorm while the guys are scruffy and bedroom-eyed. The aesthetics are expertly done, and a few scenes even ached with an elegant beauty that I didn't think The CW capable of. The writing is also sharper, more assured, than you might expect. I even detected a hint of giddy self-awareness, as if the writers were having a wonderful time writing something so cleverly silly. I also got a whiff of parody; at times the show seemed to be riffing on the stiff conventions of shows like The Tudors and even Game of Thrones. That may be overreaching on my part, but it's possible the show is being ever so slightly subversive.
So it's a bummer that the show opened with such soft numbers. I urge you to check it out this weekend on demand or online or wherever it is and try to see past the immediate absurdity and enjoy the show's slyly charming style and swoony good looks. This isn't Shakespeare, but it's admirably not trying to be.