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Testosterone and Tantrums: Showtime's "The Tudors" Fails to Impress

I was really looking forward to Showtime's The Tudors. After all, it's got all of the things that I do love in a fantastic costume drama: a stellar cast, sword fights and sex, and a tumultuous period of history to draw from. So why does the series leave me so cold?

I've given The Tudors several shots now to entertain and captivate me (I've seen various versions of the pilot over the last few months), but even after sitting through the series' second episode, I still can't wrap my head around what's missing from what's arguably one of the most expensive series ever created (10 episodes at roughly $38 million dollars, or so I've heard).

I think it all comes back down to HBO's Rome, which wrapped its series on Sunday. Now that series managed to find the right balance between salaciousness and serious drama. Both series occur at critical moments in history, with corrupt politicians, immature leaders, and lawlessness the bon mots of the day. Yet while Rome managed to strike a cord in me that made me eager to catch up with the exploits of Vorenus and Pullo, Atia and Anthony, The Tudors continues to leave me wanting to change the channel.

I will say that The Tudors is gorgeous to look at and it has a first rate cast in Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Sam Neill, Jeremy Northam, Henry Cavill, Callum Blue, Natalie Dormer, and Henry Czerny, but (in the first few episodes anyway), the series seems to stick to the same basic formula: Henry (Rhys Meyers) has sex with lots of people, declares war on someone, plays some sports (jousting, wrestling, tennis!), and someone dies. It's clear where the series is going for anyone familiar with the basics of English history (off with 'er head!) or Henry's numerous dalliances.

It all feels rather static, especially compared with the highly stylized messiness of Rome with its intricate layers and complex, three-dimensional characters. I find it extremely hard to feel sympathetic towards Henry, a preening rock star of a king prone to trashing his bedroom and sleeping with anything that moves. In fact, there isn't that character who guides you through this story (or whom you can associate with like plebs Vorenus and Pullo): Henry is too tyrannically spoiled, Wolsey (Neill) too manipulative, More (Northam) too icily detached.

Instead, I found myself looking at the prettiness of the spectacle, which ends up feeling like a case of style over substance, with nothing much holding it together, unfortunately. There's remotely enthralling about The Tudors, and with as electric a star as Rhys Meyers as your lead (and a king as gruesomely infamous as Henry Tudor), isn't that a terrible, terrible shame?

Sadly, The Tudors is being sent to my television Tower of London, never to return to my screen.

"The Tudors" premieres Sunday night at 10 pm ET/PT on Showtime. A sneak preview of the first two episodes can be found here.

What's On Tonight

8 pm: The Ghost Whisperer (CBS); Identity (NBC); WWE Friday Night SmackDown (CW; 8-10 pm); Grey's Anatomy (ABC); House (FOX)

9 pm: Close to Home (CBS); Raines (NBC); Six Degrees (ABC); The Wedding Bells (FOX)

10 pm: NUMB3RS (CBS); Law & Order (NBC); 20/20 (ABC)

What I'll Be Watching

8 pm: Spoons on BBC America (11 pm ET).

It's another episode of British sketch comedy series Spoons, in which the cast transform themselves into a series of character based on "fabulous young urbanites" in their most painful situations.

9 pm: Six Degrees.

On tonight's episode ("Get a Room"), Laura meets a guy through the internet, Whitney tries to keep her new relationship casual, and she and Carlos try to find new apartments.

10 pm: Clatterford on BBC America (9 pm ET)

It's the fourth episode of Jennifer Saunders' new series Clatterford. On tonight's episode, Sal invents excuses to keep dropping by the office.

10:40 pm: Little Britain on BBC America (9:40 pm ET)

Another chance to catch the antics of David Walliams and Matt Lucas as they skewer stereotypes in this hilarious sketch comedy show. In tonight's episode, Ting Tong's mother arrives to stay with Dudley while Sid Pegg calls a meeting.


Anonymous said…
Oh man - I LOVE the Tudors. I have seen through ep 3 now, and I am completely enthralled.

Oh well, Jace, you can't be right ALL the time. ;)
Anonymous said…
I have to agree with Jace. I was looking forward to "The Tudors," being a huge fan of period dramas. But, although it looks pretty, I find the mini series to be quite lackluster. Everything about it...from the cheesy title sequence to the plethora of sporting events that the fussy king partakes in, feels very staged (unlike, "Rome" or "Bleak House" which transported me back in time and got me wholly invested in the lives of the characters). I agree that the cast is stellar (except for the King of France who, at times, sounded English or American) but I feel that their talents are wasted. I have only watched the first two episodes but, sadly, think that's all I can take.
Anonymous said…
I must say that based on what you watch - the BBC - it does not surprise me that you would enjoy a very complex and hard to follow (convoluted) show on the brinks of cancellation, that being “Rome.” My colleagues over at Sunset-Gower (home of “Rome”) tell tales of great hope with unfortunate outcomes much like the way you describe the Tudors. I think the majority of viewers will get Henry while most got totally lost in Rome. We don't need Masterpiece Theater to be entertained and a little rock n roll and simplicity goes a long way in stylistic and intelligent filmmaking and television. Much like the snobs at awards shows who think intelligence is only found in complexity, The sheer beauty of simplicity can be magnificent if given its proper due. I myself was not looking for a manifesto of pompous British acting and one of contemporary delivery. Message received in “The Tudors.” Being of Italian decent myself, I will leave the storytelling of Rome to better tales with better producers and writers – no offense =)
Anonymous said…
I love JRM and the tudors is great! Though the plots lines are a little sexy it still is enthralling! check outVhugo fragrances for JRM in an advert. love it.
V.A. Jeffrey said…
I love historical shows and films so I was interested in watching The Tudors but sadly I have to agree with the original post. It's missing something that HBO's Rome had in spades - an exciting story.

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