The Tudors Season One
Starring: Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Sam Neill, Henry Cavill, Henry Czerny, Natalie Dormer, Nick Dunning, Maria Doyle Kennedy, Callum Blue, Jeremy Northam
Series Creator: Michael Hirst
I’ve done a lot of gushing lately over HBO’s programming, but Showtime has proven recentlu that there’s more than one premium cable network intent on putting out some quality television. They already caught my attention with Weeds and Dexter, so the decision to check out their new original series The Tudors was pretty easy.
Based on the early life of King Henry VIII around the beginning of the English Reformation and his meeting of Anne Boleyn, The Tudors was promised to be a sexy version of the Tudor history, with a rock star version of King Henry VIII, instead of the fat, bald one we see in all the paintings. To that end, they cast hot young star Jonathan Rhys Meyers to play the young king and the comely Natalie Dormer to play the target of his affections, Anne Boleyn. Oh, and they put in a lot of sex. A lot.
Obviously, this is Showtime’s answer to HBO’s Rome, delving into history for action and sex appeal, replete with expensive period garb and sets. From a production standpoint, it holds up well against Rome, if not quite as expansive. From every other standpoint, The Tudors is a very poor man’s Rome, and is unable to hold a candle to HBO’s series. The actor’s are game, but the material just isn’t that interesting. No matter how they try to sex it up, the political intrigue of one guy trying to get a divorce just can’t match the battles over the republic. While The Tudors tries to rouse excitement out of jousting tournaments, Rome raised the blood with gladiatorial battles, with the two not comparing favourably for the Brits.
One of the major complaints of Rome was how their time compression skipped large swaths of history and battles. After watching Henry yell at Cardinal Wolsey (Sam Neill) for about 7 episodes to get him a divorce, I was wishing that they’d skipped ahead to his marriage around mid-season, because I was bored as fuck with all the useless posturing and problems with the church. Worse, after he became infatuated with Anne, the sex all stopped, as she kept him on the leash by refusing to have a physical affair until marriage. Sure, Henry’s best friend Charles Brandon (Henry Cavill) still chased a lot of tail, but that wasn’t the same. He doesn’t get that much screen time, and some of those scenes are with the near-skeletal Gabrielle Anwar, so that wasn’t all that hot.
I’m not trying to be all pervy when I keep harping on the sex scenes of the show, but basically, they were the only reason to watch. Once they started to slow down, you begin to realise how painfully slow the proceedings are. Honestly, the sex scenes still don’t provide a good reason to watch the series, but at least they were distracting enough. I’m sure the show really pushed them in the early going to try and hook viewers, thinking we’d get attached enough to the characters to care about their goings on to carry us through as the show became less sensational. And they were wrong.
Ultimately, it’s a hard sell to get me to care about a monster like Henry VIII, which is why the show needed to be more plot-driven. But soon after a pretty good episode focusing on an epidemic of sweating sickness that killed a large portion of England, the show got too bogged down in details and atmosphere, and became a real chore to watch. A show that promised to be a hipper telling of the Tudors ended up turning into a slightly more interesting version of Masterpiece Theatre. I stuck it out to hopefully get some level of closure by the season’s end, and didn’t even get that. They won’t get me again for season two.