The Foibles of the American ‘Prince’

Or the faux pas of the HBO Max series “The Prince”.

By Elena Vassilieva

“S’il vous plaît soyez bon prince !” “Oui, ma princesse !” Image and words by Elena Vassilieva

On 29 July this year, the HBO Max aired The Prince, a new series about a royal family. I’m deliberately using minuscule letters in a phrase ‘a royal family’, so that it’s clear from the start that this animated series has nothing to do with The Royal Family of the House of Windsor. Of course, Gary Janetti, the creator of the series, might have had them in mind while writing the script, as he had brazenly appropriated their names, and it may delude one in the first few seconds as if it were simply a cartoonish take on the Royals. However, any cartoon, particularly a satirical one, is based on good, solid humour and fine, substantial wit, and at least a vague resemblance to the reality that is being spoofed. But none of this you will find in The Prince, an idle fantasy that isn’t bright and sparkling, but rather dull and utterly unfunny.

Besides, it seems to rely heavily on the creator’s background, his own life philosophy, behavioural modes, ethical codes, and preferences rather than those of the Royal Family members’. Also, it’s so conspicuously un-British, in spite of the involvement of a bunch of the UK actors (Alan Cumming, Orlando Bloom, Frances de la Tour, Iwan Rheon, Lucy Punch, Dan Stevens, Sophie Turner) in the series, that one is left guessing why Mr Janetti hadn’t chosen one of the fabled American families, say, the Kardashians, these relentless publicity slaves, or even one of the crews of the White House (Donald Trump would do, but so would Joe Biden), instead of bothering with the House of Windsor? The utter un-Britishness of the discourse and manners of the supposed royal characters are so striking a fact here that one can’t possibly take this creation seriously, and even less so as a comic piece. The mode of the contemporary American popular culture, whose hegemony on the global scene is hardly deniable and whose social dress code of the ubiquitous and infectious ‘look at me’ and ‘gimme’ self-exposure, combined with the urge for everything royal, are very oppressive in The Prince, ad nauseam, indeed. And if there had ever been the spirit of the British monarchy in the creator’s mind in the phase of conceiving the series, it got quickly evaporated in the process of its preparations for the audience. I would be afraid to call it even a translation, possibly, “lost in translation” would be a better phrase in this context. Please forgive me the banality of this comparison.

Even Prince Harry, whose every article of value has been contaminated by Meghan Markle’s system of values, wouldn’t say things in real life the way he is uttering them in the cartoon. For instance, in the episode where he is sharing matter-of-factly, yet in a lazily detached fashion, his astonishment of how unlike all the palaces he had ever been to the dwelling in LA is. It does sound flat, doesn’t it? And it’s a factual inaccuracy, as Harry, clearly, is fond of his new home, but it’s also a psychological distortion of reality, because he is very proud of their beautiful house, and he stated that himself in the infamous Oprah-interview, unless the creator knows something we don’t know yet. Regrettably, the series is filled with such truly sad discordances throughout: the cartoon’s characters, very American in every imaginable way, absurdly, have the real British Royal names; the children, e.g., Prince George and Princess Charlotte, sound as if they were teenagers already, on top of the fact that it’s rather tacky, vicious even, and done in poor taste, having presented the children of that young age as very unlikeable and spoilt characters, who in true life are nothing of the sort, on the contrary, they are as good-hearted and lovely as any child of their age. If it’s an animated satirical film, naturally, the characters are allowed, in fact, supposed to have some features of exaggerated proportions, but they ought to be truthful to the nature of those who are being portrayed, they can’t be forged and reimagined as the creator pleases. If the latter is the case, it’s not a satirical or even comedic enterprise anymore. All of the heroes of The Prince without exception are ill-conceived, in my view, and don’t therefore meet that criterion.

One also is puzzled, for what audience precisely the series is being made? Since it fails to release comedic effect and a crystal clear concept of the series seems to be absent as well, it can’t possibly excite imagination of any adult who possesses at least minimal intellectual curiosity, and, at the same time, it’s way too nasty and unenticing for a child, even a teenager. Though the music (by a British composer Rupert Gregson-Williams), which might be here the only thing that deserves a round of applause, suggests the younger generations of viewers. Perhaps the cartoon was thought to suit someone who is consumed by any royal topic and who would be triggered to watch it, once he hears the word ‘prince’, sort of the Pavlov’s dog bell reflex? Maybe the writers (Gary Janetti, Alain Bala, and Tom McDonald) just tried to offer their, strictly American, view of the royal everyday where the nuances got carefully filtered through the American mentality of a typical well-to-do middle-class man, a bourgeois, and a prince-wannabe? But for the lack of the appropriate circumstances, this can happen only on the very primitive level of the creator’s imagination, of course. Not surprising is hence that the only characters that are being spared from the creator’s repugnant vision are the bourgeois members of the Royal Family, Kate Middleton and Meghan Markle, for instance. Janetti’s sympathetic attitude to the women could be explained through his capability of grasping their mentality, because they share the same or similar social background (and a bourgeois mindset).

I also have difficulty to define the series as for its genre. It doesn’t appear to be a comedy because it isn’t funny. Acidic as it is, it lacks all the sharp, fair points and all the right angles of the societal peripeteias to be regarded as a good satire. Travesty would probably be the closest notion that would do justice to the series. Willingly or unwillingly, the Royals have been the centre of attention and a magnet for creative minds continuously throughout the centuries, but until now, the discourse had probably never been instilled with so much unforgivable balderdash, if not to say rubbish, and tastelessness. The latest pop-cultural ‘royal’ endeavours, such as The Crown and this HBO Max series The Prince, confirm and exemplify it so poignantly. One only wonders which one of the innumerous Royal commentators and experts has consulted The Prince?

(Written on Sunday, 22 August 2021, the day of the hurricane Henri, here, on Cape Cod.)

Copyright © 2021 by Elena Vassilieva. All Rights Reserved.