Y’all know I have a documented history of binge-watching new shows. This fall, Witches of East End hooked me after a marathon two-day catch up. Over the holidays, I cleared my DVR of the first eight episodes of Reign, and I have to say, it might be a keeper.
The bait for me was the casting. First, I grew up watching Megan Follows, so the fact that she agreed to a regular role on a series was a huge draw. Second, Torrance Coombs, a star of one of my Canadian gems Endgame (now on Hulu–get on it) was one of the three leads. Add to that they were shooting it in Toronto so the potential for HITG goodness was off the rails.
But it wasn’t enough to make me watch live, so I started recording them. I had the impression Reign was going to be sort of a 15th century Gossip Girl replacement. And I wasn’t wrong. But it’s also scary and violent and a reasonably solid companion to The Vampire Diaries, which precedes it. When the show returns with new episodes tonight, I will be watching.
The show is a fictionalized account of Mary Queen of Scots’ courtship with France’s King Francis. Shunted off to a French monastery as a child to avoid being assassinated, Mary lived a quiet adolescence. After a murder attempt, she’s brought to the castle of King Henry, his wife, Queen Catherine (Follows), and their son, Francis, to whom Mary’s been engaged since childhood.
Once there, she’s met by her court of childhood friends (the disconnect there is that if she’s been locked away, how did they all stay her close girlfriends, but that’s never explained) who arrive from Scotland (nobody has a Scottish accent–go with it) to fulfill their obligations as her attendants. All are around 15/16 when the story begins.
Mary and Francis have a fractious start as he’s already sampling the ladies of the court. His supernatural-minded mother maintains the counsel of Nostradamus, who has foreseen Francis’s death if he and Mary go through with their marriage, so that’s a problem. Also complicating things is Francis’ half-brother, Sebastian (Bash), played by Coombs, with whom Mary bonds in an “outsiders unite” sort of way.
The show is definitely soapy as we follow the love lives of Mary and her ladies. And it’s mysterious and spooky as a ghostly girl with a gunny sack mask wanders behind the walls, doling out help to Mary while also murdering one of her friends.
It’s also political (doing the right thing for France and Scotland comes up A LOT) and romantic and gorgeous to look at–the castle is ornate, the grounds are lush, and the fabulous costumes combine period styles with modern touches.
The casting is great.Â Adelaide Kane jumped from her role as Cora on Teen Wolf into the role of Mary and it’s to her credit hat she resonates here as the anchor of the show when she wasn’t really as much a presence on Teen Wolf (it didn’t help that her character was comatose for much of the third season).
Toby Regbo, who plays Francis, is new to me but I like what he does in the role. He’s very good playing a flustered prince finally faced with something he wants but is being blocked from having.
Follows seems to be having a blast as the much maligned Catherine, whom we should probably never trust and who will stop at nothing to protect her son.
Alan Van SprangÂ is great as King Henry, who wastes no time in bedding one of Mary’s ladies and then has to deal with the repercussions of ousting his mistress (Sebastian’s mother) in favor of the girl while his wife just laughs it off and focuses on her plotting.
And finally, Coombs doesn’t disappoint as Bash. He played mousy on Endgame but here he’s all wounded swagger as the bastard son who’s older than Francis but will never be an heir. He’s very good in his scenes with Kane and I can imagine the Mary and Bash relationship might start getting priority over the Francis leg of the triangle because of their chemistry. It’ll be interesting to see if TPTB swing the story their way for a bit.
The guest stars have already been a treat, too. We’ve hadÂ Shawn Doyle (Coombs’s costar in Endgame–but he and Coombs were never onscreen together here–boo!, and recently of Lost Girl) as well asÂ Manolo Cardona (Teo from Covert Affairs), and next week, Greg Bryk who lots of folks are finally finding out about over on Syfy’s new Bitten.
Reign returns tonight at 9/8c on The CW. Here are a couple of sneak peeks as we pick up with Mary and Bash on the run.
Ben Mark Holzberg/The CW
Photo: Marni Grossman/The CW
Photo: Sven Frenzel/The CW
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