Lavish lifestyles. Over-the-top drama. Blackmail. Star-crossed lovers. E!'s first scripted series The Royals has all the trappings to be your new guilty pleasure.
Developed by One Tree Hill creator Mark Schwahn, the hour-long drama, which has already been picked up for a second season, is about a fictional monarchy in modern-day London, focusing on a dysfunctional, somewhat estranged family in the wake of the loss of the heir to the throne. Elizabeth Hurley stars as the devilishly delightful Queen Helena, William Moseley plays charming bad boy Prince Liam and Alexandra Park plays Liam's twin, tabloid fixture Princess Eleanor.
"I'd spent 10 years telling stories about younger characters and I said if I could tell a story about a royal family, especially a modern‑day London which is so vibrant and sexy and fashionable, that would compel me," Schwahn told reporters during the show's Television Critics Association panel. "What are people willing to do to protect what they have?""
So take a little Downtown Abbey, add in a mix of Dallas and Dynasty, a touch of Gossip Girl and the British reality show Made in Chelsea, and you'll have this match made in fictional heaven. Here are five reasons why The Royals will be royally addicting.
1. Mark Schwahn
If anyone knows how to build a passionate fan base, it's the One Tree Hill creator. Despite its relatively small audience, Schwahn kept the addicting soap on the air for nine seasons, catapulting the drama to cult status. As for applying what he learned on the CW series, Schwahn says he knows not to lighten things up too much on a soap. "Even though I wanted to the write a comedic episode, it felt like my fan base didn't want that as much," he says, later adding, "One Tree Hill was incredibly special ... and [of all my work I get approached to talk about] it's One Tree Hill. It's my hope that it will be The Royals soon and I think it will be."
2. Villains you love to hate
This ain't your mama's monarchy and Elizabeth Hurley is certainly not the kind of queen you've seen before. Hurley revealed that she took inspiration from Disney's Cruella de Vil. Helena's daughter, Eleanor, also appears to be the resident bitch, but viewers will quickly see there's much more to her. "From a distance, she's this party girl with no limits and is scandalous, but the root she's just a girl who wants to be loved and wants to mean something to someone," Park tells TVGuide.com. But don't expect her to transform right away. "The hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold thing is played out and archaic," says Schwahn. "It feels forward‑thinking to me to have a character that we're notgoing to change overnight and go, 'Look. She was really just this sweet, nice girl.' That feels like Breakfast Club to be me. I think that her character can be wild and messy and devilish, and we can root for her. I also think that that these characters are pretty human and some days they have good days and they're on the better side of things, and some days they're really nefarious and they fall short."
3. Star-crossed lovers
Isn't it (almost) every American girl's dream to fall in love with a British prince? In this case, the across-the-pond romance is further complicated by the fact that Ophelia's (Merritt Patterson) dad works for the king. Add in Prince Liam's ex and you have a messy love triangle. "Gemma (Sophie Colquhoun) can go to bat for Liam and [she] understands the hierarchy and understands how to introduce herself, and that's something Ophelia doesn't have," Moseley says. "But ultimately, we do see the [show] through Ophelia's eyes and if their relationship doesn't work then the show will be flawed. But it's fun and keeps it interesting."
4. A modern-day Dynasty
Not only does the show echo the '80s soap, it has one of its stars! Comparing her iconic role as Alexis Carrington to her new one as the queen's mother, the Grand Duchess of Oxford, Joan Collins says this one is "a lot more grand." Still, there are similarities. "The thing that I first say to Queen Helena when I come in, 'I didn't realize when you decorated you were going to use Vegas as your theme,' is very much an Alexis kind of line." Adds Schwahn: "They did a lot of great work on that show and we would love to be compared to that show."
5. But what will the real royalty think?
Is Collins, who was recently named a dame in real life, worried what they'll think? "No," she says without hesitation. "Who knows whether the queen will see it? I think she watches a lot of racing, doesn't she? I don't know." Moseley, though, has his own predictions. "I think people will be extremely skeptical about it. I think they'll slate [that's British slang for insult!] it and I think they'll hate it. And I'm totally fine with it," he says. "If people hate it, they're watching it and watching it is good. We're not slating the royal family, that's not our aim, that's not our goal, and if you want to make comparisons, that's your choice."
The Royals premieres on Sunday at 10/9c on E!
Watch a sneak peek below: