If you haven’t watched BBC America on your cable system, you’re missing out on some excellent shows that are starting to reshape how we once viewed the cable network. Once considered a mere transplant of BBC programs from the U.K., there might have been a stigma in assuming it was all British drawing room dramas not unlike seen on PBS. That’s never been the case, and BBC America has already aired some amazing shows that found plenty of American fans. This year, they’ve also developed a good Saturday night lineup that has “Orphan Black” at the center of a three-hour block of talk shows and dramas.
As BBC America builds even more viewers, it was probably inevitable they’d end up going into the reality show market. While some people might have gone to BBC America to get away from reality shows all over cable, the network’s first foray into the genre may fool some people into thinking it’s real. It’s actually mostly satire and utilizes actors portraying royals from the U.K.
No, this won’t be another Prince Harry look-alike (on loan from Fox Network) and instead a fake brother and sister offspring from one Lord Carlton. As heirs to Caunty Manor, Georgie and Poppy Carlton are going to be taking a tour of America with cameras in tow to capture their experiences. The intention, in that British satiric way, is to give the feel of a mockumentary and show how the rich and spoiled manage to navigate the real world of America to learn how to be better people.
But as we learn too often in real reality shows about the rich and overly pampered: They almost never learn any lessons. The question is whether “Almost Royal” will manage to show more insight into this type of life in the realm of fiction than real shows do. Considering previews even fooled me into thinking these were real people, perhaps it’s better if viewers aren’t told from the beginning it’s all fiction.
The Christopher Guest Influence
You can clearly see the influence of Christopher Guest’s mockumentaries here, including the movie that started it all: “This is Spinal Tap.” The beauty behind all of Guest’s mockumentaries is that there wasn’t a prologue in the beginning saying what you were about to see was fiction. If you showed any of them to someone who didn’t recognize the familiar faces in his repertory, they would have thought it was a real documentary. Then again, anyone with radar to satire would scope it out immediately.
“Almost Royal” seems to be played so straight, a lot of people might be fooled into thinking it’s mostly real. Let’s hope they don’t indicate it isn’t real in the beginning just so people can discover the satire for themselves. When it comes to satire, finding the comedy on one’s own is the best reward when it comes to that comedic genre. And if the real rich and spoiled in America watch, you have to assume they’ll find a little too much that’s embarrassingly relatable.
Playing Up the Desire to Go into Show Business
Like Guest’s “Waiting for Guffman”, everyone wants to be in show business, regardless if you’re rich or poor. In “Almost Royal”, Poppy Carlton also wants to get into the entertainment industry here in America, yet doesn’t have a shred of ability to make that happen. Just like the people from the small town in “Waiting for Guffman”, those with flatline talent are the ones that usually want it more than anybody.
It’s too bad we can’t see the reactions of the coddled rich here in America to see their reactions when watching this show. With far too many of them also wanting to become actors or singers without real talent, it’s going to be a real zing in the British satire tradition. As far as the royals, they may be watching themselves, including William and Kate who may be guffawing themselves off their couch. We all know they shun the lifestyle that Georgie and Poppy have, giving this more of a nod toward all people who have similar lifestyles.
What might make “Almost Royal” more interesting is Georgie and Poppy’s earnest zeal to become better people. Despite their apparent confusion here at the culture of America, they’re trying to improve themselves from looking overly vacuous. That alone gives this fake reality show an edge. And to confuse the uninitiated even more, it’s still a partial real reality show when you consider their interactions with people here are real and not scripted.
Even if some might accuse the realness to be tapping into Sacha Baron Cohen territory, we haven’t seen any of this from the British perspective. Also, we have to remember that Cohen is British, hence the British stealing from themselves. If America usually steals from the British in all comedy, this new spin on the fictitious reality show will probably be much wittier and filled with a few innovations an American network may pick up on eventually.
Perhaps the greatest legacy from “Almost Royal” might be in American TV deciding to go with fictitious reality shows to thumb a nose at all the reality show plot contrivances we’ve seen over and over. Then again, considering reality shows are mostly scripted (still a supposed industry secret), we may be already watching satire across the cable universe.