This article contains information that could be considered too revealing according to our spoiler policy. Proceed with caution. You can't unsee it!Reason The entire first season has already aired in France, the UK, and Canada; we also got screeners.
Should You Join The Royal Court At Versailles?
Ovation makes a bid to enter the prestige-drama space with Versailles. Does it rule?
What Is This Thing?
In 1667, Louis XIV has just ascended to the throne as King of France. However, a series of recent civil wars in which nobles rebelled against the monarchy have made him paranoid, so he decides to move the seat of power from Paris to his father's old hunting lodge in Versailles. Not everyone is happy about it!
When Is It On?
Saturdays at 10 PM ET on Ovation, starting October 1.
Why Was It Made Now?
It wasn't really made now: Versailles is a French/British/Canadian co-production, and its first season has already aired in all those countries, with France getting it first last fall. The more salient question is probably why is Ovation airing it now, and I'm pretty sure the answer is that the splashiest way for a cable network to let the world know it's gotten into original programming is with an expensive-looking drama set in yesteryear. Starz did it with Black Sails and Outlander; WGN did it with Salem; hell, even Reelz did it with that miniseries about the Kennedys that no other network would touch.
What's Its Pedigree?
The series was created by Simon Mirren, whose previous credits are all crime procedurals -- Without A Trace, Criminal Minds, and Third Watch -- so this is the kind of departure not seen since Bruno "Rome" Heller took the helm at Gotham. And while you'd expect a production like this -- you can't quite call it a Euro-pudding, to use Hugh Grant's coinage, given the Canadian involvement, so how about Euro-poutine? -- to feature at least a couple of faces you'd already seen on Game Of Thrones or Luther, the only one I recognized in the series premiere is Lizzie Brochéré, best known for The Strain and American Horror Story.
It's important that a show like this establish whether it's going to be your grandparents' historical drama or a lascivious soap occasionally interrupted by court dances, so let me assure you that you will see a sex scene featuring naked lady boobs within the first three minutes of the episode. (Or...I guess I did, on the screener. It's possible Ovation won't be able to put up a content warning emphatic enough and might cut around them -- which, if that's the case, is a shame; they're nice boobs.) Louis XIV may be getting up to his debauchery some two hundred years after Henry VIII, but they seem to be similarly inclined in their appetites; the casting and styling of George Blagden as Louis seems explicitly intended to remind us of Jonathan Rhys Meyers's Henry on The Tudors.
In terms of wigs: on average, solid B.
You have seen this show so many times before. There's a monarch who can't understand that his monomaniacal hubris will be his undoing. There are scenes of barbaric torture to make you feel good about how much more civilized we supposedly are now. There's an anachronistically educated and liberated woman (that's Brochéré's Claudine, a midwife trying to learn medicine from her doctor father). There's a dwarf treated like a randy pet. All of a sudden, someone's gay.
I can imagine that in its native France, audiences were way into this story of the Sun King. But I am kind of surprised that a show about a notable period in French history is the mid-17th century and not the Revolution a hundred years later. I realize that it's already been covered with Marie Antoinette, that one episode of Blackadder The Third, and many other pop cultural products; I just feel like there's inherently more drama to be mined there than with this dude moving his court into the woods and making his palace all fancy -- particularly when we've already seen the "after" footage of that palace...in Marie Antoinette...and maybe in person if you've been to France.
Basically: ordinary people throwing off the shackles of repression: compelling. Rich people in a very opulent Under The Dome: less compelling.
If you haven't stopped missing The Tudors since it went off the air, this will be a fine way for you to spend Saturday nights. The rest of us can skip it.