Ian Thomas Malone

period drama Archive



May 2015



Reign Is A (Mostly) Fun Costume Soap Opera

Written by , Posted in Pop Culture

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.



November 2014



Season 5 of Downton Abbey Bides Its Time While Waiting for the End

Written by , Posted in Blog, Downton Abbey, Pop Culture

Change has always had a consistent presence on Downton Abbey. Being a period drama, we have a fairly good idea of where the show is going to go as it creeps closer to its inevitable finale. Despite this, the show has done a remarkable job in breathing new life into the old house and decaying aristocratic society.

We saw this particularly in season three with the arrivals of Alfred, Jimmy, and Ivy, which gave the show’s dynamic a breath of fresh air. The youth movement did wonders to negate the feeling that from here on out, life at Downton would veer from the extravagant to the simplistic. With Alfred’s departure in series four, Ivy’s after the Christmas Special, and Jimmy’s after the first episode of series five, that youthful energy is all but gone, leaving Daisy in a similar holding pattern she was in at the start of the show.

The absence of the three of these characters isn’t a big loss from a story perspective. Eight episodes is hardly enough time to adequately address the show’s ensemble cast anyway. Their departures address something that we’d all rather avoid. Things are winding down and now it’s starting to show.

The future was a predominant theme is season five. Carson, Hughes, Patmore, and the Bates all made arrangements for their retirements while Tom continued to grapple with his desire to leave for America while taking Sybbie’s best interests into consideration. Lord Grantham continued to weigh the interests of the village against his obligation to preserve the way of life that can be threatened by those whose interest lie solely in monetary game. Mrs. Crawley debates a marriage proposal to the disdain of Lady Violet, who fears losing her treasured companion as selfish as that may be.

Problem is, this is all familiar territory. Edith and Tom’s storylines are merely continuations of plots from last season that could, and probably should have been wrapped up. Lady Rose’s late-season courtship with Atticus is just about the only fresh plotline to be had other than Mrs. Crawley, who unexpectedly found herself in possession of one of the show’s better stories.

The Bates remain the biggest thorn in Julian Fellows’ paw. He has never really known what to do with them. Sadly, this has resulted in yet another murder plotline that’s even droller and tedious as the first. It’s hard to imagine that #freebates was ever a legitimate fan rally as the couple hasn’t had a positive moment in years.

Fan sentiment also provides a roadblock for Lady Edith and her illegitimate child. It’s sad story. It isn’t a particularly interesting one and Edith’s years of being an annoying/whiney character didn’t do the plot any favors. After five seasons of watching her mope around, it’s hard to care.

This season had a few shining moments worth remembering. Miss Bunting quickly became of the most hated characters in the show’s history and Fellow’s timed her depature perfectly as to not allow her to overstay her welcome (or rather unwelcome). Thomas received redemption of sorts from Dr. Clarkson in one of the season’s most touching moments. Molesley was Molesley and as such, got his own article.

I watched an old season two episode in between episodes to see the contrast between then and now. It’s to be expected that shows drop off a bit as they get older. Even a worldwide phenomenon like Downton.

The problem is that Downton has an identity crisis, a problem that’s existed since the World War I storyline ended but was exacerbated by Matthew’s death. The show knows where it’s going, but it doesn’t know what to do with itself in the meantime. It seems to be a fairly safe assumption that next season will be the final one, which may not be such a bad idea.

Downton Abbey is certainly more entertaining the most of what’s on TV, but it’s also clear that the show is well past its prime. Fellows overindulged in repetitive storylines and drew out others unnecessarily. It’s hard to call season five bad, but when the bar was raised so high from previous years, the drop in quality is a tad unfortunate. The Dowager would certainly not be impressed.