Americans have been without a British king or queen since that whole dust-up back in 1775, but that hasn't stopped us from gawking at the royalty across the pond in the tabloids. Netflix is banking on this fascination with The Crown, a new period drama about Queen Elizabeth II's rise to power. The first season picks up in 1952 and depicts her early years on the throne, and Netflix plans to pump out five more seasons to take us all the way up to present day. Should you make an early investment in this monarchy, or rebel against it like a true American? Here's what you need to know.
The Crown is aimed at Anglophiles who already watch Call the Midwife, Poldark, or any other show featuring Brits in retro costumes. Previously, all those Downton Abbey diehards had to wait for PBS to pick up its shows months after they already aired in the UK. Now Netflix is muscling in on that territory in a big way. (A $100 million way.)
Like those shows, The Crown strives to immerse you in the past with its painstaking attention to detail. The series isn't just interested in the spectacular, flashy points of Elizabeth's life. It covers her opulent wedding and coronation, of course, but it spends much more time on quiet meetings between the hesitant new queen and her staff, or flashbacks to li'l Liz and her dad, who also wasn't keen to be king. If you already follow similar historical dramas on the BBC or ITV, you'll dig this deliberate approach. But if you don’t, The Crown can come off as awfully dense and slow.
The scandalous lives of English monarchs have fueled many titillating costume dramas. Hell, "movies about Henry VIII's dick" could be its own Netflix category. But much to the chagrin of slutty-history fans, The Crown doesn't really fit the bill.
That’s not to say the show doesn't have scandals: King Edward VIII's blasphemous marriage to a divorcée and Princess Margaret's similar attempts to wed a much older divorced dude come up. (Quick history refresher: Edward was Elizabeth's uncle; when he abdicated the throne, her dad became king. Margaret was Liz's younger sister.) Still, the tortured romances here are chaste as can be. There's no bodice-ripping to be found, just a lot of angsty hugs and wailing about decorum. Although Prince Philip's butt does manage to beat the odds with two on-screen appearances.
Are you a history nerd?
Despite a compelling performance by John Lithgow as the infamous Winston Churchill, The Crown is most interesting when it peers outside of Buckingham Palace. It touches on international affairs over the course of its 10 episodes, like Soviet testing of the H-bomb and foreshadowing the Suez crisis. In the standout episode "Act of God," the show devotes an entire hour to the Great Smog of 1952, when the entire city of London was choked with a lethal fog that killed 4,000 people. This wider perspective is one that any history geek will admire -- and it only makes Prince Philip's tantrums about flying lessons look even more frivolous.
Do you want to get mad about old gender standards?
You can't have an old-fashioned show without some old-fashioned sexism. When Elizabeth takes the throne, pretty much everyone around her doubts she can do it. Unsurprisingly, pretty much everyone around her is a man. She endures the most abuse from her own insecure husband, who devolves into a walking version of #MasculinitySoFragile as the show goes on. (Yes, Doctor Who fanatics, this means you have to watch Matt Smith play an enormous asshole.) This struggle to be taken seriously as a woman still resonates today.
The closest thing Elizabeth has ever had to a royal entourage is her arsenal of corgis. The queen has kept those dogs as pets her entire life, and won't even appear in an Olympics spot without them. So you'd think The Crown would cash in on the cute corgi action… except the dogs are limited to five or six all-too-brief cameos. Clearly, Netflix has no idea what those guys can do with a mini-pumpkin.
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Kristin Hunt is a freelance writer for Thrillist and would love to grab drinks with Princess Margaret. Follow her on Twitter @kristin_hunt.