The first two seasons of “The Crown,” the Netflix series about Queen Elizabeth of England, were intriguing. A young princess gets accelerated onto the throne years before she expects, while her family struggles to catch up alongside her. Claire Foy playing a plucky young woman rising to an immense occasion. TV worth watching!
Then the third season arrived, like a Public Safety Power Outage from PG&E. Makes no sense, and pisses you off.
In Season 3, the queen is a dud. Her family is a dud. The writing (mostly by series creator Peter Morgan) is a dud. I found myself imagining a different royal family, one with its ears to the ground, eyes in the community, and ready to smack sense into any government that was out of touch. Instead I was watching a royal family that had no sense of the population, no motivation to engage with it, no interest even in its own progenitors. Useless duds. All of them.
I have written many scripts for stage and screen, and directed a good number of them. The main lesson? It’s nearly impossible to make talented, experienced actors such as Olivia Colman and Helena Bonham Carter come across as annoying. But “The Crown” achieves this in Season 3. The actors appear robotic, unsympathetic, and clearly uninspired.
Like the real people they are playing!
When I objected to my better half that “The Crown” shows aristocratic stiffs being useless to their country – at great cost – she said “That’s the point of the show.” To which I replied, “Then why should I watch that?”
Why should I watch low-wattage, disengaged people being out of touch with their times and community? Just because they happen to be born into a family that Britain fetishizes as “royalty”? Sorry, no. The royalty in Holland and Denmark are culturally engaged, politically savvy, and advocating for progressive causes both in their countries and in the wider world.
The royals in “The Crown” are advocating for more money, for themselves. If a national disaster strikes, one of them might put in an appearance a week later. Might even fake some emotion for the TV cameras – but only if someone tells them to.
This is why it feels like there is no lesson I can learn from the Windsor family in “The Crown”: they are relentlessly, culturally tone-deaf. Official biographers always say Elizabeth is “above politics” and “on an even keel,” but we could say the same about the average horse. (Elizabeth likes horses.) No, the Windsors are not “above politics,” they are way below them. They rise mainly to petty family matters. We got to see that in the 1980s and 1990s.
The Windsors did not find Prince Charles the “wrong” wife in Diana Spencer; they lured her into marrying a man whose only interest was producing a couple of viable pregnancies as a matter of duty. All the requirements were on their side: she had to be aristocratic, virgin, pretty, inexperienced, gullible. All the nastiness was on their side, too: isolation for her, infidelity for Charles, and placing the blame for her needless death squarely on her – even though it was due to the royal-mania they cultivated for decades in order to ensure that British taxpayers would continue to fund their extravagant, pointless lives.
So I am not blaming the actors who took over the main roles in season 3 of “The Crown.” The characters they play are flavorless cardboard, impossible to render sympathetically. But I am urging you to boycott the rest of this super-expensive, totally irrelevant series. Elizabeth and her family mean nothing to us. They teach us nothing. They are not even interesting to watch while they teach us nothing.
Now, there are those who will say that boycotting “The Crown” means missing Prince Charles courting Camilla Bowles and Princess Anne doing equestrian events in the Olympics. Thank goodness. There’s nothing I want to learn from royals and their, um, horses.
So if you’re not watching “The Crown,” don’t start. If you are watching, stop. We hear all the time that this is the era of “Peak TV.” Let’s support the shows that actually reach for the pinnacle, and avoid the ones that could have come from PG&E.