I’ve made no secret that I find the state of television lately to be a fractured thing. I have no patience for reality shows of any ilk, the slate on the major networks is largely yawn-inducing, the best dramas are on pay cable for extremely short seasons with months of waiting between, and the jury is still out on the Twelfth Doctor. So it’s always a nice surprise when a show pops up that I don’t immediately hate and in fact kinda love. It doesn’t happen much, so I usually feel like doing a little happy dance, but Fluffy is ill at the moment and won’t be dancing, so I will just be blogging about my newest (and right now, only) TV love, the CW’s new drama Reign. Based (very) loosely on the life of Mary Queen of Scots, it’s definitely a period piece, but with modernist trappings that– for me, anyway– make this appointment television. I would have written about it sooner, but I wanted to make sure it continued to hold my attention; I’ve been burned before, declaring a show the Very Saving Grace of Television before getting bored out of my mind and drifting away (I’m looking at you, Once Upon a Time). But Reign is shaping up to be an intriguing, if somewhat soapy, look into the lives of the ruling class, with an awesome soundtrack, breathtaking costumes, and so, so many pretty faces.
Three episodes into the first season, and I’m still hooked. We’ve got our spunky heroine in Mary, portrayed by a luminous Adelaide Kane, a young queen making her first entrance to the court of France. She is engaged to marry the crown prince, Francis (Toby Regbo) and thereby secure an alliance between Scotland and France. However, nothing at the French court is as it seems, and Mary has unintentionally gained an enemy in the form of Queen Catherine de Medici (Megan Follows, in glorious scenery-chewing Bitch Mode). Catherine’s husband King Henry (Alan Van Sprang) has a wandering eye and as a result the queen has been consoling herself by keeping company with the seer Nostradamus (Rossif Sutherland). The clairvoyant has warned Catherine that if her son Francis marries Mary, it will result in Francis’s death, so Catherine is hell-bent to keep the marriage from ever taking place. Of course, there are other complications as well: Francis’s half-brother Bash (Torrance Coombs), the most gorgeous bastard since Jon Snow, seems quite taken with Mary; a mysterious presence known only as Clarissa haunts the castle’s hidden passageways, helping or hindering at will; the surrounding woods are filled with dangers thus far only hinted at; and the prince of Portugal wants to woo Mary himself. This is not to mention the various intrigues among Mary’s ladies-in-waiting, a quartet of her highborn best friends who started out the season entirely interchangeable but are developing as interesting characters in their own rights. Lola (Anna Popplewell, best known as Susan Pevensie to Narnia geeks) is the romantic one, whose beloved, Colin, becomes a pawn in one of Catherine’s plots; Kenna (Caitlin Stasey) is the barely restrained hedonist, whose lusty nature captures the attention of King Henry; Greer (Celina Sinden) is the innocent one who’s never been kissed, though there’s a hunky chef in the kitchens who’d like to change that; and Aylee (Jenessa Grant)… is blonde. Hopefully she gets some plot action in the coming weeks so we can get to know a little more about her than her hair color.
All the acting is pretty top-notch, but especial props go to Kane and Follows. Kane is tasked with carrying the series almost entirely on her shoulders as its protagonist, and she is more than up to the challenge. Her Mary is both a shrewd political negotiator who is willing to sacrifice her own happiness for the good of her country and a naive 15-year-old girl who loves dogs, riding and playing kickball. That Kane can balance Mary’s youth with the maturity her unique position has bestowed is no easy feat, and she’s as enjoyable to watch in Mary’s awkward moments as in her triumphant ones. Follows is a delight as Catherine de Medici, a truly amoral character who will stop at nothing to get her own way, and you can tell she is having fun with the role’s irredeemable ruthlessness.
There has been some flak about the historical accuracy of the series (or its lack thereof), but it is indisputably entertaining. Yes, there are characters and situations that have no basis in fact. It’s not a documentary, so I really don’t care– if I want the real story, I’ll go to Wikipedia, and be aware that others are probably getting just as interested in the actual history as I am, which is a blessing in itself. The costuming may not be exactly accurate either, but it is undeniably amazing and beautiful, and the modern soundtrack, featuring music from the Lumineers, London Grammar, and Band of Skulls among others, adds a feeling of immediacy and freshness to the proceedings. It all combines for a lovely impressionistic rendering of 16th-century France that maybe never was– but at least we can go there on Thursday nights, and love the heck out of it.