A period drama about European royalty is not typical programming for the CW, but a teen love triangle with supernatural overtones is.
“Reign” is all of the above. A lushly produced, highly fictionalized drama about Mary Queen of Scots, with a contemporary pop music soundtrack and costumes that wouldn’t look out of place at a prom, it’s half “The Borgias” and half “Gossip Girl.”
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Either that description has already inspired you to set a season pass on your DVR or it horrified you. One thing is certain: “Reign” — premiering Thursday (Oct. 17) at 9/8c — is one of the most unusual shows of the new season.
Here are five things you need to know about “Reign”:
1) Mary has two love interests, only one of whom actually existed.
In the premiere, headstrong Mary (Adelaide Kane) moves into the French court in preparation for her arranged marriage to that country’s Prince Francis (Toby Regbo). Their union will create a strategic alliance between Scotland and France.
The questions are whether Mary’s enemies will prevent the marriage from happening, and whether the future king and queen will actually fall in love.
In real life, Francis was sickly and died young, at age 16. On the CW, he’s a hunk who manufactures swords as a hobby. He also has a half brother, Sebastian, the child of King Henry II (of France) and his mistress. Naturally, Sebastian (Torrance Coombs) is immediately attracted to Mary.
There is no historical record of Henry II ever having had an illegitimate son. “Reign” showrunner Laurie McCarthy defends her decision to invent a love triangle instead of focusing on the numerous documented dramatic events in Mary’s life.
"Because we are fictionalizing Mary's life, we're telling what was a love story historically, that Francis and Mary, they do wed," McCarthy said. "They did love each other. From all accounts, they were very close. It was not a long marriage, I'm sorry to say. I would say the layer that we're adding onto it is that unbeknownst to anyone [is] that Francis had sort of grave political objections to what it meant to wed not a girl, but to wed her country and to take on another nation's problems."
Added Kane, "We can take creative license. It's entertainment. It's not The History Channel. We're trying to make a show that people will enjoy watching and will really connect with and will find really fun."
2) Queen Catherine is the most ruthless villainess of the new season.
The most intriguing character in the pilot episode of “Reign” is Francis’s mother, Queen Catherine de Medici (played by Megan Follows), who quickly establishes herself as Mary’s rival. She cannot control the king, who openly cheats on her and excludes her from taking on political responsibilities.
Yet she is brilliant and ruthless, the true power behind the throne, like the 16th century version of “Scandal’s” Melli Grant.
Follows — famous for playing the title role in “Anne of Green Gables” at least three times (in 1985, 1987 and 2000) — jumped at the chance to play such a complex role. “The general treachery in the household, which, I think, makes just for fabulous drama, is what brings out huge ethical and moral dilemmas for [Catherine], which sometimes require pretty brutal action,” Follows said.
"But I think her motivation is always coming from a really sincere place … And I love that she has that power. But she has to live through other people's power, and that is also, I think, what makes it really complex for her."
3) Ghosts and prophecies abound.
Belief in the supernatural was common in Mary’s time, which gives the show a mystical edge. The castle may be haunted, something strange is happening in the woods, and Catherine’s chief adviser is the prophet Nostradamus (Rossif Sutherland).
Says McCarthy, "He really was an adviser of Catherine's. He really was a prophet. We are meeting him at a time where, you know, we are not looking back on him in history, and knowing that his prophesies really were sometimes spot on. Catherine definitely believes that his prophesies were spot on, and she takes his warnings seriously … He gives us a little bit of a genre element to the show. He'll see things in visions and dreams that he won't entirely know how to interpret, and he'll often misdirect people [toward] treacherous, terrible ends."
4) Mary’s clique is grounded in reality.
Mary has a quartet of ladies-in-waiting who act like a clique of high school girls. It's arguably anachronistic, given that teenagers were considered adults during this period, but McCarthy insists there is a historical basis for their existence.
"The girls who came to court with Mary, they were known as the four Marys, and, you know, there are great question marks in history," McCarthy said. "Were they all named Mary? Were they all called Marie because that's what the French called ladies in waiting?"
Added Kane, “She and her friends used to dress up and go down to the village and, like, drink with the commoners and prank people and things like that.”
5) The show has odd sex scenes.
There are plenty of shows with more sex than “Reign,” but no broadcast series has stranger sex scenes.
In the pilot, a couple consummates their marriage while other members of the royal court watch. One young female spectator gets so turned on that she leaves to pleasure herself, only to be seduced by the king (although this scene has reportedly been cut or heavily edited in preparation for the show’s premiere). Even the initial attempt to stop Mary from becoming queen involves a sexual assault.