TV review: 'Reign' is frothy 16th-century teen drama

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History purists who loathe artists taking creative license steer clear, but for viewers who enjoy a good soap, gorgeous costumes/locations and a winning soundtrack, The CW's "Reign" (9 tonight, WPCW) delivers an entertaining romp in its premiere outing.

"Reign" boils down to this: It's a teenage iteration of a cable costume drama (think: "The Tudors" or "The Borgias"), but this one follows Mary Queen of Scots (Adelaide Kane) as she heads from hiding in a convent to dancing at glitzy castle parties.

'Reign'

When: 9 tonight, The CW.

The story begins in 1557 France as Mary, who has been under the care of nuns, watches in horror as a food taster begins coughing up blood after ingesting poison that was presumably meant for Mary.

The royal is rushed to the castle where Prince Francis (Toby Regbo) awaits. Mary and Francis were set up in an arranged engagement as children to secure a strategic alliance between France and Scotland, but in the intervening years, political realities shifted, and Francis has his own life that includes another woman.

Francis mostly comes off as a poor little rich boy who's jealous of the freedoms enjoyed by his half-brother, Bash (Torrance Coombs), who will never be king.

"They don't worry about him dying so much that they don't let him live," Francis tells Mary.

Francis' father, King Henry II (Alan Van Sprang), also has a mistress, Diane (Anna Walton), who gave birth to Bash. Francis' mother, Queen Catherine (Megan Follows, "Anne of Green Gables"), rules the roost, plotting on Francis' behalf after consulting with her adviser, Nostradamus (Rossif Sutherland), who has visions of Francis' demise if he marries Mary.

Written by Laurie McCarthy ("GCB," "Ghost Whisperer") and Stephanie SenGupta ("Hawaii Five-0," "Law & Order: Criminal Intent"), "Reign" gives the politics of the French court equal weight with the teen drama of Mary and her friends, who appear to be ladies-in-waiting although "Reign" never really spells that out (when Mary gets to the castle, this quartet of teen girls awaits her).

The "Reign" pilot, the only episode made available for review, puts contemporary music into many scenes, juxtaposing the period look with a modern sound. It's an approach director Sofia Coppola also used in her 2006 film "Marie Antoinette," and it works particularly well in "Reign."

This being a CW show, sex plays a role. Mary and her friends spy on a couple as they make love on their wedding night, and one of Mary's friends pleasures herself discreetly in a castle corridor.

If the political plotting and teen drama aren't enough, "Reign" goes a step further -- perhaps a step too far -- by adding a potential ghost in the castle (or maybe it's a character glimpsed briefly with a bag over her head) and a mystery in the woods that surround the castle.

Directed by Brad Silberling ("Moonlight Mile"), the "Reign" pilot may be overstuffed, as pilots often are, but it sets up plenty of opportunities for future stories in a fun, frothy mix that's fit for a TV queen.

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A version of this review first appeared in Tuned In Journal blog at post-gazette.com/tv. TV writer Rob Owen: rowen@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2582. Follow RobOwenTV on Twitter or Facebook. First Published October 16, 2013 8:00 PM


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