It's unlikely E!'s casting department ran out of real-life awful families to feature, but all the same they created a fictional one for The Royals, the network's "first scripted original program," which is a cute thing to call it considering the bulk of E!'s reality programming is likely scripted. But you get the point. In an alternate-universe version of present-day England, the royal family is a royal mess. A woman named Helena (Elizabeth Hurley), who has a terrible attitude and wears entirely too much eye makeup, is queen. Her husband, Simon (Vincent Regan), seems nice enough, and as a result, their three children are mostly not awful, though daughter Eleanor (Alexandra Park) also wears too much eye makeup and is sexually promiscuous and self-destructive to such an extent that her mother snidely asks her if she was molested as a child. Then there's Uncle Cyrus, a not nice guy who has a couple of daughters, a pair of red-headed caricatures of the privileged—fascinators forever pinned to their empty heads—that real-life British princesses Beatrice and Eugenie should real-life take issue with.
By all accounts the King and Queen's eldest male child is a good dude, but he dies in the first episode, making his younger brother, Prince Liam, heir to the throne. Liam seems pretty nice and normal—most of the truly abhorrent people on the show are female, naturally—but still King Simon announces to what's left of his mostly awful family that he wants parliament to abolish the monarchy. The queen, who's used to a certain standard of living, isn't much a fan of that idea, so she walks around being a bitch to everyone because, as we quickly realize, she has no actual power, but being mean makes her feel like she does. She can't even keep the main palace security guy's daughter from dating Prince Liam—the security guy basically tells her to fuck off, and without consequence—so what good is being queen anyway?
I'm not sure that's a question worth pondering.
Think of the worst hour-long prime-time soap operas to have assaulted our senses over the past 30 or so years, then go ahead and add this one to your brain's trash heap. The dialogue is dull in its desperation to be shocking, the narrative is kind of boring, and the production values remind me of 1990s episodes of Beverly Hills 90210—which was a great show, by the way. But The Royals isn't even bad good. I like camp as much as the next gal, but it takes a degree of self-awareness, and this show's only goes so far. Yes, the makers know it's ridiculous for Prince Liam to act out by crowd surfing at a garden party honoring military veterans, but I'm not sure they realize the several-second freeze of him being filmed from above was a thousand times more ridiculous.
It makes sense that E!'s "first scripted show" would be about royalty. Our democracy has made orphans of Americans, and we've resorted to creating our own kings and queens to love and hate in equal measure and to splash on the covers of our tabloids—we've yearned for royalty we can call our own. But this won't be the thing that dethrones the Kardashians.