Once you gather together all the basics of a typical nighttime soap opera, including scheming siblings, blackmailing blackguards, and retaliatory redrum, you can set them down just about anywhere. You can place them in the music industry (“Empire”), the Hamptons (“Revenge”), Washington, D.C. (“Scandal”), a Seattle hospital (“Grey’s Anatomy”) — it really doesn’t matter.
What does matter is whether the show containing all those soap tropes has a distinctive tonal flair, an ensemble of actors who can have fun with the material, and plots that can manage to surprise in an era when we’ve already seen many, many twists. The most timeworn of story lines can suck you right in when they’re enacted with splash and dash and exactly the right amount of trash.
That is not the case with “The Royals,” E!’s first scripted effort, which premieres on Sunday at 10 p.m. after the return of “Keeping Up With the Kardashians.” The show is a terribly predictable collection of classic nighttime-soap elements, dropped carelessly into an imaginary British royal setting. The look of the show, the cast, the script, it’s all bland and vanilla, without any tension or clever humor. “The Royals” cries out for campiness and one or two outrageously outsize performances. Instead, it delivers an ineffective and frustratingly smooth performance by Elizabeth Hurley as Queen Helena, the character who ought to be the show’s live wire, as well as a generic cast around her.
The premiere opens with the death of the oldest son of Queen Helena and King Simon (Vincent Regan), the prince next in line to be king — although I’m not convinced that creator Mark Schwahn (“One Tree Hill”) won’t bring him back from the dead at some point, once the writers have become desperate, which could be next week. Fret not, though. The king and queen still have a pair of problem kids under their roof, though, to keep the palace hopping and the paparazzi prying.
Prince Liam (William Moseley) looks like he just stepped out of a fairy tale, and he’s a decent guy, but he has a weakness for the ladies, and Ophelia (Merritt Patterson), the daughter of the head of palace security, in particular. His mother is, of course, appalled at this star-crossed liaison. But when she threatens Ophelia, in what could be a wonderfully flashy scene, there are no fireworks, just mumbled threats.
While Liam frequents pubs and plays darts, his twin sister, Princess Eleanor (Alexandra Park), goes to rowdy nightclubs and dances partially unclothed on tables. She is the rotten apple, a prickly woman who sleeps around with men and women and who will swallow just about any pill at her disposal. She is seen regularly on the cover of the tabs. Her father is upset enough about the state of his family to declare his mission to propose the dissolution of the monarchy — something his jealous and greedy brother, Cyrus (Jake Maskall), is not pleased about.
“The Royals” might have been more promising if it had been a little more ebullient and a lot more outrageous. There’s something too ordinary about it. We want to be bloody gobsmacked, mate.Matthew Gilbert can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @MatthewGilbert.