We really are living in a golden age of television, so much so that I would argue that TV and not film is currently the greater moving picture art right now. Hannibal, Game of Thrones, Halt and Catch Fire, Orphan Black, and many, many more have taken serialized storytelling on the screen to the next level. It’s a good time to be on the couch.
Not every show is high art, though. In fact, some of it is downright low brow. Weirdly though, such shows seem to elevated above what you would normally expect due to the higher standards of scripted TV programs these days. I’ve been following three shows in particular that I pretty much expected to be garbage and actually turned out fairly impressive. Things like…
The Plot: The Royal Family is in crisis when the heir to the throne dies a mysterious death while in the military, elevating his younger and less kingly brother to Prince Regent. Meanwhile, King Simon, disgusted with his family’s lack of ethics and morals due to partying, drugs and adultery, considers disbanding the monarchy entirely.
Why It Should Suck: Well, it’s produced by E! for starters, and the E! Network is not exactly well-known for producing content deeper than a kiddie pool. Also, hanging all your star power draw on Elizabeth Hurley as the courgarish Queen Helena sounds insane. Aside from a recurring role on Gossip Girl Hurley hasn’t exactly lit the world on fire since Austin Powers.
Why It Doesn’t: Hurley kicks all the ass. Helena is an incredibly multi-faceted role that takes her all over the place. One minute she is the voice of a grieving nation, then she is a manipulative cruel seductress, then she is a mother heart-broken with no one to turn to, and finally she is the freakin’ Queen burning down the property of people she doesn’t like. You watch something like Game of Thrones with Cersei and you enjoy Cersei because she is safe in a fantasy land. Helena is right here and now in the world we actually inhabit, and that makes her ten times more compelling than Cersei will ever be.
The show also dives into some very interesting places. On one hand there is the shadowy mystery of the prince’s death over everything, lending a gripping plot over the family shenanigans. William Moseley and Alexandra Park work beautifully off one another as the twins Prince Liam and Princess Elanor. Growing up in the shadow of their more respectable brother they often have only each other to rely on, something that is put to the test when the slightly older Liam becomes next in line. Park and Moseley are an effective team, and equally impressive in their own plotlines involving the one of a kind life of royalty. Overall The Royals is little different than shows like The Borgias and The Tudors, but it has the guts to exist right now and that lends it edge.
Status: Renewed for Season 2.
The Plot: Becca is having cold feet on the eve of her second wedding when she somehow travels back to 1995. Now in the past with the foreknowledge of everything that’s to come ahead of her she tries to alter her own history to see if she can preserve friendships she ruined and hearts she broke.
Why It Should Suck: Not to reuse the same joke, but it’s a show on VH1 for starters. VH1 has produced some respectable original programming over the years, but most of it is sappy and amateurish. Also, even for a channel that was always built to cater to nostalgia you just cringe at the thought of how much “remember the ‘90s guys?” is going to be crammed down your throat.
Why It Doesn’t: Well, the ‘90s were in fact pretty awesome musically, and Hindsight has the best soundtrack I’ve heard on a show since True Blood went off the air. I’m not saying that VH1 is just using Hindsight as an excuse to showcase everything I used to watch on 120 Minutes, but as a celebration of what music meant in the decade alone it’s amazing the feelings those songs bring up in you.
Assuming you’re not old, though, Hindsight has a more universal message that speaks to everyone who wishes they could change the past. Laura Ramsey as Becca is screw-up, albeit a good-hearted screw-up. The time travel aspect is heavily downplayed, and the main plot is more her being hyperaware of the possibilities of damage she can do to people she honestly cares about. It’s more or less St. Elmo’s Fire for people that thought grunge was going to save the world, but it works both as a period drama and an examination of destiny. Plus the end of the first season hints at something being more at play regarding how Becca ended up in 1995 and what powers decided to send her there.
Status: Renewed for Season 2
The Plot: On the set of a Bachelor-esque reality show a producer recovering from hitting rock bottom and a shallow playboy find meaning while dealing with reality TV.
Why It Should Suck: Is life already not so inundated with reality TV that we’re now actually making shows about it? Dating reality TV at that, arguably the bottom of the barrel of taste. Who in their right mind would watch this?
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Why It Doesn’t: Me. I would. This show comes with a hell of a pedigree. It was based on an award-winning short film and Marti Noxon is a co-creator. Shiri Appleby is, Rachel, the young producer trying to get her life back together, and she sells this show hardcore as a plucky everywoman who is seriously messed up but also seriously gifted at what she does. Even if she sort of hates herself for the manipulations and intrigue that go with her job, she feels at home there. She’s like Clarissa Darling meets Tyrion Lannister.
Freddie Stroma also rocks as Adam, the suitor. On the surface he’s a feckless son of privilege, but deep down he’s striving hard to build a name for himself outside of his father’s money. Though he seems as ethically flexible as a FIFA executive, through his relationship with Rachel he does some really stand-up things. Not to spoil a really awesome plot twist, but he throws himself on a grenade to save the reputation of a small town girl with a secret that could alienate her from her family forever. The show is full of touching moments like that as well as razor-sharp criticisms on how the media deals with race, mental illness, portrayals of women and other pertinent issues. It’s sleazy and gratuitous, but it knows that and dares you to ask why an audience craves that.
Status: Currently Running.