Every week, IndieWire asks a select handful of TV critics two questions and publishes the results on Tuesday. (The answer to the second, “What is the best show currently on TV?” can be found at the end of this post.)
This week’s question: What is your favorite depiction of a monarch/royal character on TV?
*Yes, the monarch can be fictional and not based in our world. They can appear anywhere: historically adjacent dramas, cartoons, time-travel shows, fantasy series, comedies, sci-fi series, etc. They just need to rule! 👑
Allison Keene (@KeeneTV), Collider
This question has provoked a lot of anxiety, because where do I even start? First with the classic choices: Claire Foy is exceptional in “The Crown,” of course, but Jodie Comer was really dazzling in “The White Princess.” George Blagden and Alexander Vlahos make “Versailles’” French court a delight, and Tom Hiddleston was swoon-worthy perfection as the young playboy Hal who becomes the venerable Henry V in “The Hollow Crown.” And then fictional as well? We have to consider “Adventure Time’s” science-minded Princess Bubblegum, or even Beebo’s brief reign as ruler of the Vikings on “Legends of Tomorrow.” Where does it all end?
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But my favorite? If I’m going with my Anglophile heart then it has to be, as of its second season, the one-two punch of Jenna Coleman’s Queen Victoria and Tom Hughes’ Prince Albert on PBS’s “Victoria.” The show is a comfort and a joy (and often a very emotional experience), as the young monarch Victoria truly starts to come into her own. Even with this power, she still has to constantly prove herself as capable of being a mother and a ruler (imagine!). Plus, Victoria’s complex relationship with Lord Melbourne is one of the greatest love affairs on TV where the parties involved almost never even touch. And yet, her marriage to Albert is also beautiful in its warmth and nuance and its relationship-based realness. There’s a lot to love here, and I very much do.
April Neale (@aprilmac), Monsters & Critics
Showtime’s incredible series “The Tudors” starring Jonathan Rhys Meyers as Henry VIII hands down. Meyers is such a force of nature in this role and opposite Natalie Dormer as the fated Anne Boleyn – it was addictive fantastic TV drama. He really gave that role his all as the lusty younger Henry. That series was created by Michael Hirst, who also gave us “Vikings”, another favorite of mine on History channel, and he wisely cast Meyers on that series as a warrior monk. The series brought history to life in the most eye-popping and realistic way, thanks to the crack below the liners like costumer Joan Bergin and production designer Tom Conroy and impeccable lensing by DP Ousama Rawi.
Also of note is Claire Foy who deserves a huge shout out for her Elizabeth on “The Crown” too. She played her so richly, showing a nuanced human side to her then the switch when she was “on” for public life. Foy’s approach to the role was never over the top. Just like the Queen is likely in real life.
Alan Sepinwall (@sepinwall), Uproxx
Stories of actual royalty have never excited me much (The Crown has been a pleasant surprise, but still occasionally drifts back down below my basic interest level), so I’ll pick a couple of fictional royals from alternate worlds: Ian McShane as Silas Benjamin on NBC’s short-lived “Kings,” and Dame Diana Rigg as the Queen of Thorns on “Game of Thrones.” McShane was born to play a charismatic monarch (based on King Saul from the Old Testament, but in a contemporary setting) terrified of slipping into irrelevance, and Rigg made a meal of every too-brief scene she was given, up through Lady Olenna’s last. (“Tell Cersei. I want her to know it was me.”) There have been a lot of contenders and pretenders to the Iron Throne, but the Queen of Thorns is one of the few monarchs on that show who seem like they might actually do a good job sitting in it.
Joyce Eng (@joyceeng61), GoldDerby
I realized I’ve seen way more costume/royal films than TV shows. So in that case, I’m going with the one and only Prince Gerhardt Hapsburg, or Gerhardt Messerschmit Rammstein Von Hap, of Austria from “30 Rock.” What’s he like as a ruler? I have no idea, but the inbred royal never let any of his maladies or fake baby hand deter him from living his best life. And after finding, uh, true love with Jenna, he died happy by drinking champagne (he can’t metabolize grapes). RIP Gerhardt. And thank you all dear friends… FOR COMING TO MY BIRTHDAY!
Liz Shannon Miller (@lizlet), IndieWire
There are so many good choices, but I’ll go with my initial instinct: Cersei rules. I mean, she’s a sociopath who’s left a wide swath of bodies in her wake, but hey, she knows what she wants. Let the “Game of Thrones” matriarch take the throne. She’s worked hard for it.
Damian Holbrook (@damianholbrook), TV Guide Magazine
Kneel before Margo Hanson, High King of Fillory! Because we’re talking about “The Magicians,” of course this isn’t an easy explanation as to how Margo became the King of the show’s fantasy world. Originally the Karen Walker of Brakebills College for Magical Pedagogy, Summer Bishil’s Margo has spent the past three seasons not only developing as a fully fleshed-out character who is as fast with the schemes as she is with the sarcasm, but also displaying her ability to rule beyond social situations. Serving alongside original High King Eliot (Hale Appleman), Margo was willing to sacrifice more than most realized to help the people of Fillory…she lost an eye to the Fairy Queen, she married the Stone Queen’s teen son, she even stepped aside when Eliot suggested that an election for Fillory’s new leader (after they were deposed) should be a male. But since she is a total boss with the best fashion-sense this side of the Floating Mountains, the people picked her as a write-in candidate and last season ended with Margo assuming the throne. Which means, of course, next year is gonna rule.
Kaitlin Thomas (@thekaitling), TVGuide.com
Is the answer Crowley, the king of hell, on “Supernatural”? Is it the depiction of Henry VIII on “The Tudors”? Or is it actually “The King of Queens”? Nope! My favorite depiction of a monarch is far better (and sillier) than all of those options: Queen Victoria in the “Doctor Who” episode “Tooth and Claw.” The episode revolved around a bunch of rude monks who wanted to turn the queen into a werewolf. Yes, really. The Doctor obviously stopped the monks’ sinister plan, but the queen did end up with a small scratch, and that’s why I love Doctor Who. Where else are you going to find Queen Victoria threatened by a werewolf and then sort of imply that all of the queen’s children might have actually been werewolves? Honestly, that is far more interesting than anything that has ever happened on “The Crown.”
Todd VanDerWerff (@tvoti), Vox
Maybe it’s the fact that I recently saw “Won’t You Be My Neighbor,” the excellent new documentary about the exceptional life of Fred Rogers, but I think King Friday, of the Neighborhood of Make Believe, is exactly the sort of benevolent dictator I would like to have in my life. He’s eminently wise and fair, but he’s also occasionally carried away by some weird fad or anxiety, the better to help kids learn a little skepticism for their leaders. But when push comes to shove, he runs a kingdom where everybody treats each other with kindness and respect, even though the residents include talking tigers, talking owls, talking cats, whatever Lady Elaine is supposed to be, a bunch of humans, an anthropomorphic dog man, and a purple panda. If King Friday crossed over into our reality and said he could run it better than we have… I’d be tempted to give him the keys.
Daniel Fienberg (@TheFienPrint), The Hollywood Reporter
Yeah sure, Claire Foy is fantastic in “The Crown” and lots of people are very good on “Game of Thrones,” but yawn. I add a similar yawn to the countless doubtlessly worthy PBS and PBS-style depictions of royalty, be they historical biopics or Shakespearean adaptations. That doesn’t mean I’m not an appreciator of such things, but if you cast Helen Mirren as Queen Elizabeth or do an entire miniseries about a Roman emperor, I’m going to expect greatness and rarely be surprised by it. Speaking of… Nobody else is going to even mention “I, Claudius” and the absence of recognition for “I, Claudius” will make this list shamefully incomplete, so all hail Derek Jacobi in “I, Claudius.” Consider yourself mentioned! Then we can have a debate about the Shakespeare-inspired faux royalty of the Golden Age of TV. A Mafia heads-of-family royalty? Why not, snob? Tony Soprano is royalty. Is Al Swearengen royalty? Why not, snob? Fine, at least I’ll mention Ian McShane and his work in “Kings.” Some recognition needs to be given for one of television’s most heartbreaking, but also informative, depictions of OCD, namely The Count from “Sesame Street,” surely a cautionary tale about the dangers of thinned out royal bloodlines if ever there was one. And it would be unfair to mention The Count without mentioning his grief-stricken contemporary Count Blah from from “Greg the Bunny.” Based on the timing of the question, though, I assume that y’all would like me to tie this in to the end of “New Girl,” which means that the final answer clearly has to be: Prince on “New Girl.” Rest in peace.
Ben Travers (@BenTTravers), IndieWire
It’s Princess Sparkle. And no, I’m not referring to “My Little Pony” — all I know about a “G1 Unicorn Pony” is what came up when I was trying to find a link to Summer Roberts’ childhood best friend (and toy horse) on “The O.C.” Princess Sparkle symbolizes more than nostalgia and adolescence for the Fox drama’s most evolved character; she’s a critical link between Seth and Summer, the former of whom has a less royal, but equally distinguished toy horse named Captain Oats. Their fateful horses led them to believe they were meant to be together, which helped sustain a rocky romance to what was ultimately a happy ending. Bless you, Princess Sparkle. You carried quite a burden.
Q: What is the best show currently on TV?*
A: “The Americans” (four votes)
Other contenders: “Killing Eve” and “Dear White People” (two votes each), “Bob’s Burgers” and “The Terror” (one vote each)
*In the case of streaming services that release full seasons at once, only include shows that have premiered in the last month.