The new animated sitcom The Prince sets out to be a satirical portrait of Britain’s royal family, and it already has the usual suspects up in arms. The Telegraph called the show a “Hollywood insult”, while The Daily Mail was moved to come to Prince George’s defence and ask: “Should children be ‘off limits’ in comedy?” I take issue with this question because it’s far too generous to class The Prince as “comedy”.
The eight-year-old prince – around whom the show revolves – may be portrayed as shallow, self-absorbed and vapid, but much more offensive is just how unfunny they’ve made him and his predictably dysfunctional family. If George had personally rounded up a group of his primary school mates, they’d surely have been able to crayon together a funnier script than this royal mess.
Each episode of The Prince – which was released in the US on HBO Max and is currently without a home in the UK – opens with a “Royal Decree” on parchment. It reads: “You are ordered to enjoy the following programme. But please note, all persons and events in this show are entirely fictional. Like, this isn’t really the royal family. It’s like, a parody, or whatever. And certain recent events will not be reflected in this programme because, again, not real. So, chill. That’s an order.” This is, of course, a necessary measure, just in case any viewers switched on to see scheming children and eyeless hordes of monstrous subterranean tart-makers and assumed they’d accidentally put on The Crown.
The “certain recent events” line is a reference to the death of Prince Philip in April, which caused the show’s release to be delayed by several months. In the show Philip is still alive, if barely. He’s presented as a babbling almost-corpse who has to be recharged nightly, although if the servants forget they can always get away with propping him up Weekend at Bernie’s-style. At least one good thing that came out of the real Philip dying is that he got to leave this world without ever having to sit through an episode of The Prince. By midway through the 12-episode series I had already started to envy the dead.
Speaking of “recent events” ignored by the show, it’s worth noting that George’s (not so) great-uncle Prince Andrew goes entirely unmentioned. A more fearless show could have displayed its teeth by, you know, actually satirising the royal family as it is. Instead we get guest appearances from America’s equivalent of royalty, the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.
Any potential for real bite is lost in this landslide of American pop-culture references, some of which may baffle British viewers. In the first episode, Prince George – think Stewie from Family Guy minus the murderous impulses and the wit – is distraught because he’s just learned Kelly Ripa doesn’t follow him on Instagram. I mean, why wouldn’t a British child be obsessed with an American daytime TV host? The show is full of these sorts of anachronisms. At one point George refers to watching “cable” – that can probably be best explained by assuming nobody on the show’s writing staff has ever spent any time in Britain.
George is voiced by Gary Janetti, who also created the show. Formerly a writer and producer for Family Guy, Janetti has for several years been posting pictures of young Prince George on his Instagram account, along with imagined catty remarks and sarcastic dialogue. The posts have earned Janetti a sizeable following and, evidently, created the impetus to make this show. Though this is perhaps a valuable lesson that what makes for a popular Instagram caption doesn’t necessarily translate to scripted comedy.
The voice cast is filled out by an array of A-listers, although even proven comedy talents like Lucy Punch (as Kate Middleton), Alan Cumming (as George’s butler Owen) and Frances de la Tour (as a capricious and foul-mouthed Queen) struggle to elevate the leaden material. Both Dan Stevens’s Prince William and Orlando Bloom’s Prince Harry are portrayed as relentlessly dull and dim, and precious little comedy is squeezed out of Harry’s attempts to make it in his new life in LA as either a masseuse or a barista.
If this palace has any positives, it can at least be said that the 13-minute episodes are mercifully short (even if they often feel longer). The royal family are ripe for satire and rich with comic potential, but when it comes to The Prince, in the immortal words of George’s great-great-great-great-great-grandmother: “We are not amused.”
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