Recently, this piece on Slate talked about the rise of “viewing parties”, screening TV shows with a community of like-minded fans. It seems strange to me that this is considered a “new” thing and I don’t totally buy into it. Nor do I buy into the notion that television viewing has become more solitary with the rise of Netflix and the DVR. It has changed “appointment viewing”, sure, and the way we view communally (see the explosion of tweets when a particularly popular show is on) but I don’t think viewing has become more solitary. In fact, traditionally, I think TV viewing was always considered fairly communal and family-centered. Or, at least that’s what I gather from watching The Wonder Years.
TV watching for me has never been solely a solitary activity. Sure, I have watched TV on my own but, more often than not, I’ve used TV as the reason, the impetus for a get together. When I was a kid I’d force my family members to watch shows selected by me. As a teenager, every Thursday night, my usual band of cronies would get together to watch Survivor or NBC’s line up of “Must See TV”. This kind of TV watching has continued as an adult, with a partner who shared my affinity for jamming pop culture down people’s throats, whether they like it or not. And, so, you can usually find a collection of grown up kids in my basement laughing, hooting and hollering at the various things they see on our fancy flat screen. We watch sports, we watch comedies, we watch dramas and we do it together because it’s way more fun and far more sane. We may miss half of what we are watching because of chitchat, banter and general snark but that never seems to matter.
And we also bring shows to each other. So, I was only kind of surprised when my good friend Kurz brought up the show Reign only days after I spotted an ad for it and declared my probable future love for the show while also laughing uncontrollably. Kurz and I have found common ground with Reign. The giddy, silly kind of common ground that comes with realizing you like something that you probably shoudn’t, that’s not particularly good for you. Reign is (at the moment at least) that thing for us.
Reign is a “historical” romantic drama on the CW that centres around a 15-year-old Mary, Queen of Scots. It’s like the CW just decided, without doing any market testing, that teenagers were over Vampires and Werecats and the like and were now into Royalty. And, really, Mary could be any old Queen/Princess and you’d never know the difference because historically accuracy is not the point of the show. And I’m completely and utterly fine with that especially after reading that the real life of Mary was, from all accounts, kind of boring. In this version of Mary’s life, she is whisked away to France where she is betrothed to some floppy-haried Prince named Francis. Then she has to live in his castle with his parents (such a drag) and her four best friends/entourage. The fun of Reign is in the fact that a) the show does not take itself seriously – how could it, being completely unfaithful to the actual events of Mary’s life and also obsessed with kissing b) It is teetering on the brink of batshit crazytown (which you know I love) – it has everything I like about a soap without the chugginess of usual soap pacing, c) there are SECRET PASSAGEWAYS! and, most importantly, d) the characters.
In the spirit of honoring the characters and watching communal television, I present to you a Reign character summary as concocted with the help of my viewing buddies so that you can follow along at home:
Mary Queen of Scots – beautiful, rich, a bit of a tomboy (she plays soccer!). The least interesting character on the show. Scottish, but doesn’t have a Scottish accent.
Prince Francis – beautiful, rich, a bit of a ponce. Shares the same posture and clothing tastes as Mick Jagger but with none of the charisma. The second least interesting character on the show. French but doesn’t speak French or have a French accent.
King Henry – handsome, rich, a total horn dog. Never met a woman he didn’t want to bone. Has an eye and a finger for Kenna. He’s the King of France but you’d never know it because he doesn’t speak French or have a French accent.
Queen Catherine – beautiful but, like, so, so old. Played by Anne of Green Gables. Hangs out with Nostradamus A LOT. A bitch in the evil stepmother sense. She’s Italian but blah, blah, blah…
Sebastian – beautiful, bastard son of King Henry and this other woman who lives at the castle because the King needs her around for doing it. Everyone calls him Bash because CW.
Nostradamus – Sexy, anachronistically young, broody, future-seer. Looks like Jon Snow crossed with a bear. Hangs out with the Queen A LOT. Has premonitions and then tells them to people in riddles. Because why would you be forthcoming about important stuff like that?
Kenna – beautiful member of Mary’s entourage. Aka “the slutty one” (and that is meant in the most anachronistic, sex positive sense). Having a finger-bang affair with the King. Currently, the most interesting character on the show.
Lola – beautiful member of Mary’s entourage. Aka “the ugly one” (but totally not ugly at all). Her dude was supposedly beheaded after trying to rape Mary (intrigue!) but actually didn’t get beheaded only to die a few episodes later. She is kind of Mary’s frenemy because of this.
Aylee – beautiful member of Mary’s entourage. Aka “the dumb one” (she actually seems pretty dumb).
Greer – beautiful member of Mary’s entourage. Aka “the pretty one”/Aka “the smart one” (this is an arbitrary designation). Had her first kiss with a lowly baker (intrigue!) despite looking over 30 and like every man in the world would already have lined up for the job.
Clarissa – Unknown attractiveness. Aka “Bag Face”. Wears a bag on her face, lives in the walls and secret passageways in the castle. Often comes to visit Mary and gives her cryptic advice about whom she can and cannot trust.
I often watch bad and mediocre movies because two hours spent with something not very good seems palatable. I rarely watch bad or mediocre TV because of the time commitment. Why spend the time on something that isn’t giving anything back to you? Reign is not a great show. It’s not even a good show. It is a mediocre show at best but succeeds at being more entertaining than most mediocre shows and a handful of the “good” ones. I would recommend Reign to almost no one and yet it has all the things I like in a show that I watch with other people: unintentional hilarity, beautiful people, sex, intrigue and mystery. And secret passageways, lots of secret passageways. Reign‘s popularity in my circle of 30-year-old friends is unsustainable but, at the moment, it is serving its purpose. It is a show to watch with friends while you drink a glass of wine, and hoot and holler.