Episode 2 of The Romanoffs, “The Royal We”, is about a couple who are going through a tough spell in their (childless) marriage, and is rather good.
When The Romanoffs debuted on Amazon on Friday, two of us regular writers agreed to share episode one and two between us. It’s an anthology series, so having the same eye on every episode is not crucial at all. I wasn’t terribly hopeful from the description but figured I could help out, and get a change for myself at the same time, to clear my head between horror films.
So imagine my surprise: I really quite liked “The Royal We”. At nearly an hour and a half long, it played like a feature film in its own right, and as such, it was a success. As part of a series, I have doubts, but it’s too early to say. Perhaps you can write an anthology TV show about any subject, just as you can produce a collection of short stories about anything. The Romanoffs demonstrates that point if nothing else.
But back to episode two. “The Royal We” is about a couple who are going through a tough spell in their (childless) marriage. They want to get through it and seek therapy to help, but neither is clear exactly what the issue is or even whose it is. Are they trying to resolve Michael’s problem, Shelly’s problem, or a mutual one? The story follows the pair over a few days, including time apart over the weekend, while they attempt to find a conclusion… or a middle ground… or, Hell, something in common at least.
Michael is played by Corey Stoll, who i remember as a tragic figure from House of Cards, and Shelly by Kerry Bishé, from Halt and Catch Fire. They both play those roles beautifully, but interestingly the personalities are both virtually the same as those other roles I have seen them in. If it’s not broke, eh? There is one key difference, though: those previous roles shouted some intelligence. During their weekend apart in this episode, husband and wife spend their time in utterly different ways (wife on a cruise and husband in jury duty), facing extramarital temptations, and not thinking things through, but following instinct instead. No wonder they cannot discuss what’s going through their heads when they get together: there’s nothing there, or at least nothing they can put their fingers on.
The temptations are played by a well-chosen supporting cast: Noah Wyle as fellow cruise passenger Ivan; and Janet Montgomery (who apparently started out in Skins series one!) as fellow juror Michelle. We don’t get to find out much about Ivan, but he’s clearly got more in common with Shelly than her husband does. Michelle, on the other hand, knows herself and knows how to have a fling; again, a huge contrast with Michael. It’s not going to take much to guess who the loser of this story is, but it’s a thoroughly satisfying story arc.
So why did I enjoy “The Royal We” so much? Two reasons: the characters were utterly believable, despite how shallow they were. As well as that, the cinematography, especially huge outdoors shots with bright sunlight, touched me.
I am going to watch the rest of the series; I’m not going to hurry through, but dip in when I feel like it, like a book of short stories. And similarly, I won’t mind if there’s a duff story here and there, as long as I enjoy most of them.
Alix has been writing for Ready Steady Cut since November 2017. They cover a wide variety, including genre festivals, and especially appreciates wit and representation on screen.