By all means, don’t let history interfere with potential enjoyment of “Reign,” which will hinge entirely on embracing the show as high camp — “Gossip Girl MDLVII,” if you would. CW’s from-a-distance-daring embrace of the period piece quickly defines itself as a silly soap, albeit one where the bodice-ripping we’ve come to associate with the genre on pay cable, while artfully done, is perhaps here closer to bodice-wrinkling. Perish the thought that young viewers with an aversion to books come away thinking the show’s timeline is accurate (a dashing young Nostradamus? Really?), but other than those who watch it as comedy, “Reign” falls mainly in the plain.
Teenage Mary, Queen of Scots (Adelaide Kane) has been living in a convent since the age of 9, before being summoned out of exile to court, where she’s supposed to marry France’s Prince Francis (Toby Regbo). She’s quickly united with her four ladies in waiting, who, much like Mary, clearly didn’t get the memo that Revlon wasn’t invented until several hundred years later.
Almost as soon as she arrives, Mary is greeted by layers of intrigue, including those who don’t want to see the marriage happen. Unfortunately, that contingent includes the queen (Megan Follows), who receives ominous warnings from Nostradamus (Rossif Sutherland, one of Donald’s sons), telling her if the union happens, “She will cost Francis his life.”
Of course, if “Reign’s” Nostradamus was really all that prescient, he probably would have held out for a part in another show.
Beyond that, there’s the little matter of Francis’ dreamy bastard half-brother, Bash (Torrance Coombs), who hangs around the palace and, like all CW leading men, is sure to make a contingent of young women with good Internet connections go positively weak in the knees. (Both Francis and Bash, incidentally, have perfected the three-day beard growth, looking more like grunge rockers than medieval royalty.)
Not helping matters, “Reign” (written by Laurie McCarthy and Stephanie SenGupta, and directed by Brad Silberling) rather distractingly undermines its 16th-century setting with a contemporary soundtrack, presumably because there are fewer “music featured in ‘Reign’ ” tie-in possibilities involving Renaissance-era composers.
All told, the series — handsomely shot in Ireland — represents what amounts to a sleight-of-hand act — an attempt by CW to look like it’s trying something different while really just churning out more of the same, albeit with more splendid settings and ornate costumes. It’s “Game of Thrones” with a learner’s permit, for those whose parents won’t let them watch pay TV.
“Anyone who’s close to you lives in constant danger,” one of Mary’s ladies fusses, seeking to build a sense of intrigue.
The actual Mary was wed at 16, participated in various intrigues, and spent the last 19 years of her life in custody before being executed by order of her cousin, Queen Elizabeth I, at the age of 44.
“Reign” should be so lucky.