I ended up watching the four first episodes of the British series, The Palace, a while ago. Obviously, it may not be fair to judge an entire series on so few episodes, but these were some of my thoughts.
I’ve heard say that The Palace was supposed to be the British answer to the West Wing. I’ll just say that in that aspect, I think they’ve failed miserably. Now, the West Wing is one of my favourite television series, so it may be hard for the Palace to measure up, even from the start, I suppose.
But where the West Wing has interesting plot-lines, humour, and characters you feel for and want to get to know; the Palace seems to have neither. The West Wing was originally intended to be more about the staff than the president; the Palace seems to be focusing mostly about the scandals of the royal family, and intrigues therein, with a minor dash of staff alongside it.
We enter the series at the historic time. The King is dead. Long live the King. Only, the Prince of Wales is a 20-something who enjoys going to night-clubs instead of to the opera, homeless shelters or most charitable things, really. His older sister thinks she should be the Queen instead, because she does all the above.
The latter point is one where I think the casting directors and writers went wrong. They seem to have focused so much on making this a drama, that it gets Dallas-esque proportions in terms of scandals and intrigue. Where we could easily have been rooting for the sister, based on date of birth and pure suitability, I ended up actively despising the character. She was as unsympathetic as she could possibly turn out to be, and I’m not sure if it was the writing, the acting or a mixture of both.
There are other similar missteps in casting. I would say there are some excellent pieces in there, but not many.
Jane Asher as the Dowager Queen is marvellous, and the youngest princess, who is leaning towards punk and teenage rebellion is also fairly decent. The Private Secretary to the King, is a bit like Leo… to a young and inexperienced Bartlet, who doesn’t listen most of the time. The Private Secretary’s assistant, also quite good casting, is writing her book about the royals, on the side, and she has loads of things to tell, considering the scrapes she’s continually bringing them out off.
Interesting pieces to watch includes the difference in attitude between the younger and the older staff – the ones who have been there forever, would do anything for the royals to stay out of trouble with the press, as opposed to many of the younger ones. I can well imagine it being like that in real life as well.
At the time the project first came out in the press, I think I said something about using a fictional country, so they could do whatever they liked with the royals. (Meg Cabot, looking at you…) But the British setting is one of the things that is working well for me; the history, the pageantry, the crowds, the press – it had all that was needed to become a serious high-quality drama. Instead… well, we have something which seems to want to be more a soap than a drama.
While there are good bits in there, the majority of the time, the overall result is really quite cringe-worthy.