Reign Is A (Mostly) Fun Costume Soap Opera
Since I’ve been doing a lot of articles on costume/period dramas, I thought it prudent to feature the only one currently airing on network TV. Reign is best described as a guilty pleasure that’s the offspring of a one night stand between Gossip Girl and The Tudors. Despite not being much of a success with ratings or critics, The CW picked it up for a third season despite possessing what’s probably the deepest roster in the network’s history. Perhaps some executives couldn’t get enough of the “historical” telling of Mary, Queen of Scots’ time in France.
Reign’s premise is fairly simple. It tells a story (I hesitate to use the word “the” given the historical inaccuracies) of the relationship between Francis II of France and Mary, Queen of Scots. If the writers know any of the actual history beyond what can be read on Wikipedia, it doesn’t show. In fact, if the writers’ training consists of anything other than watching old episodes of Melrose Place and The O.C., that doesn’t really show either.
Despite this, there’s something oddly endearing about the show. The plots are stupid, but Reign rarely tries to hide this fact. This is a soap opera that knows exactly what it is. Beautiful people scheme in a beautiful castle. That’s Reign in a nutshell.
Reign is carried by the talent of its two lead actresses. Adelaide Kane and Megan Follows dance circles around the rest of the cast as Mary, Queen of Scots and Catherine de’ Medici. Tory Regbo plays a rather spineless King Francis and Torrance Combs has had very little to do since season one as Francis’ bastard brother Bash. Queen Mary’s ladies maids/ladies in waiting all occupy various degrees of odiousness.
Which is why I enjoy it. We’re in the era of costume/period dramas. Reign has its place in the circle of life as the only one regularly airing on network TV. Being on The CW means that it’s going to be more soap operatic than it would be if it aired on the other networks, assuming it wasn’t intended to be a comedy like Galavant, but that’s okay too. We don’t really need network rip-offs of Game of Thrones, Outlander, and Vikings that can’t have excessive violence or nudity because of the FCC.
Granted, Reign’s status as a guilty pleasure show has been called into question with a pretty subpar second season. I blame that on the episode count. Twenty-two episodes a season is tough for most shows, let alone a costume drama. The plot has moved at a glacier pace since the death of King Henry, often recycling stories every three episodes or so. Quality has never been Reign’s strong suit, but even the melodrama has suffered with so little progression.
It’s hard to see Reign lasting very long past season three. History told us that already given the brevity of Francis and Mary’s marriage, but I’m not sure how relevant that is to this show. The CW’s line-up is pretty stacked, leaving little room for an expensive show with sagging ratings.
From the show’s third episode, which features sparring match between King Henry and Bash played to Bastille’s hit “Pompeii,” you could tell exactly what Reign was going to be. Popcorn fluff. Better that than most of what’s currently on network TV. You could certainly make the case that The CW is delivering what its audience wants better than NBC or ABC (Fox has Empire and CBS has all its procedurals so I’ll give them passes).
Reign is (usually) fun. That’s all it needs to be. One should not look to The CW for a history lesson. There are these things called books, which are good for that kind of stuff.