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Thursday, June 26, 2014

ALMOST ROYAL Almost Funny

Article originally written for Seat42F.



BBC America is trying its hand at an original comedy for the first time with ALMOST ROYAL, premiering this weekend. It’s the story of Georgie (Ed Gamble) and Poppy (Amy Hoggart) Carlton, siblings who are 50th and 51st in line for the British crown. Their father has died and has wished them to explore the United States, so they set off on a cross-country journey in America. To call their experience culture shock would be to minimize the result.

ALMOST ROYAL feels a bit like the sitcom 2012 in tone, with a bit of Little Britain tossed in. It’s a very British mockumentary, a scripted performance that is done in a reality show-esque fashion, and there is narration. The characters are bumbling, incompetent idiots, and while they may mean well, they certainly don’t have the skills to accomplish their task. No matter what they do, it is destined to go wrong, and the intention is for these mishaps to be hilarious, though it falls quite a bit short of that, in my opinion.

The series also reminds me of Borat. Georgia and Poppy are offensive to the point where it’s like they’re trying to be ridiculous. They do have sheltered upbringings, true, but they make little effort to try to fit in. When told it’s improper to label themselves ‘friends with benefits,’ not understanding the connotation, Poppy continues to repeat the phrase over and over again, never understanding that she’s wrong. Unlike Borat, though, whom we know is an actor trying to get a reaction, we’re meant to see Poppy and Georgie as authentic individuals, and it doesn’t quite work.

The main problem with ALMOST ROYAL is the conceit surrounding the two main characters. They are supposed to be so dumb and full of themselves that they can’t see past the end of their noses, and they are, but they also somehow competently get around. When Georgie takes the wheel of a car and pulls off the lot in L.A., a city known for terrible traffic, I assume he won’t be able drive effectively. Yet, after awful issues in the parking lot, he’s fine for the rest of the episode. This ruins any believability that has been built up.

They also are completely unlikeable. This can sometimes work, especially in dark dramas, but it’s much harder to invest in a comedy where you can’t relate to the company. They are vapid airheads with no awareness of what they are or the world around them is, with a lack of utter compassion for anyone else. Few viewers will be able to root for such people, even if they watch them continuously over several seasons.

I do give ALMOST ROYAL credit for not going along with every obvious joke. For instance, the car situation mentioned in the preceding paragraph is ripe for wrong-side-of-the-road sight gags. The writers skip this, and I’m grateful because it’s been done to death. Instead, they mostly aim for something a little more subtler, though still over the top, such as having the siblings both believe that Poppy is a fine actress and can easily get a role in Hollywood.

Despite my hesitations with ALMOST ROYAL, I have to give praise to Hoggart and Gamble, the actors in the project. Pretty much unknowns with very few credits between them, they are one-hundred-percent committed to the parts they play. The characters may not be well-developed or cleverly written, depending on your viewpoint, but they are consistently performed, and with a true earnestness. Any weaknesses present are not the fault of the cast in this instance.

ALMOST ROYAL is a very specific brand of humor. If you tune into the first episode and enjoy it, this is likely a program you’ll want to set a season pass for on your DVR. If you are immediately turned off by the characters and don’t find the scenarios amusing, then skip it entirely, because this show is not for everyone. I do think it may find an audience, but not a broad one in the U.S.

ALMOST ROYAL airs Saturdays at 10 p.m. ET on BBC America.

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