Proving that there’s more than one kind of “reality” television, Showtime’s latest offering, THE TUDORS (premiering Sunday, April 1 at 10 p.m. ET, with episodes one and two currently available both on-line and via Showtime On Demand) offers viewers a sexy, sudsy saga based on the life of England’s King Henry VIII. Borrowing a page from HBO’s ROME, Showtime’s royal fleshfest offers up a history lesson one isn’t likely to sleep through. As the series opens, England and France sit poised on the very cusp of war, with King Henry (the charismatic Jonathan Rhys Meyers in a career-defining performance) eager to send his troops into battle if only to guarantee his own name will be remembered for generations to come. But his trusted (perhaps more than he should be) advisor, Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, proposes that the young King seek fame by instead brokering peace. And thus is set into motion a series of events which put the unhappily married king on a collision course with the beautiful Anne Boleyn (the lovely Natalie Dormer, whose flirtatious glances can’t help but remind one of Juliet Landau’s BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER alter ego, Drucilla… during her saner moments).
Oh, sure, the real people upon whom the series is based could never have been as stunningly attractive as the cast herein assembled, but given the caliber of acting and regularity with which their flesh is placed on display, this is a fact we’ll happily overlook. Unlike ROME, which often seems to presume that we did better in history class than it should, TUDORS, at least in its initial offerings, makes the period being examined easily accessible to even those who may have only a cursory knowledge of the period. The production values are beyond reproach and the entire offering proves, once again, why viewers looking for exceptional programming would do well to look beyond the networks. As an increasing number of network hours are being devoted to cheaply produced, mind-numbing offerings featuring the banal antics of those willing to humiliate themselves for exposure, the pay channels are providing alternatives which show just how much more interesting tales from the real world can be.