When it was announced that E! (the exclamatory network in the ESPN family for those unfamiliar with the channel) was going to dip its toes in the foreign waters of scripted television, it took many by surprise that their first subject was to be the Kansas City Royals. The news came in March of 2014, and even Royals fans weren't sure what the point of making a fictionalized series based on a team that was entering its 29th season of near-certain irrelevancy.
Fast-forward a year, and the sudden hot commodity that is the Kansas City Royals makes perfect sense as the subject upon which to base a television series.
The pilot episode opens at a club. Music is bumping, Women are dancing in that generic arrhythmic, hands-above-head, hip-swivel way that is supposed to read as sexy but doesn't quite land there. The presumption here is that this is the scene is set at McFadden's and that this is the night that Eric Hosmer and some teammates treated any Royals fans who saw an invitation on Twitter to a five-figure open bar for an hour after the Royals swept the Angels to secure entry to the American League Championship Series.
The woman who seems to be the focus of the scene is approached by a friend. They are British. Hmmm. Must be a rights thing. They ditch a pair of guys, head to a private booth cordoned off by a human barricade of men in black suits and ties. Symbolically they must represent the bullpen, the last line of defense, meant to protect the team. Drinks are imbibed. Our subject kisses a girl. Seems like she liked it. Dudes are shirtless. Amphetamines in pill form are crushed, chopped, and lined up into rails. The show's creator, Mark Schwahn, is clearly drawing from some teams of yesteryear as well. Perhaps she's supposed to be Jerry Martin.
She is dancing on a table in a short-cut dress and falls off, flashing her naughty bits which are then caught on camera and end up on the front page of a bunch of tabloids. She comes in on a helicopter to a stately manner, whereupon the man-servant Truman--a nod the Pride of Independence to be sure--tells the flasher's father that things are worse than just his daughter's genitalia making the front page of the newspaper. It's his son.
Suddenly there's a lace-pantied female ass with no face and a handsome chap's head resting right beside it. The hope here is that there is a living, breathing woman attached to that butt. Marcus enters and addresses handsome dude as Prince Liam. He has an accent. This may be Liam Hendriks, though he played such an inconsequential role in the 2015 campaign as to render such prominent placement in the series questionable at best. "Liam" looks good without a shirt on though. It's probably safe to assume this is Alex Gordon until proven otherwise. Again, surely this is all a rights issue. Make things as non-specific as possible to shield from likeness lawsuits. It should be noted that there is no world in which this position in which Alex Gordon just woke up is comfortable. They'd never have slept that way.
The lace underwear belongs to someone who is alive. Phew. Ophelia. Even odds she is found dead in a pond.
Alex Gordon runs down a hallway while Elizabeth Hurley admonishes the Flasher with newspaper headlines as props. Royal Beaver. Flashdance. Given how she dances, she would not have had a future at Mawby's as she lacks the requisite ability to titillate. Hurley calls her "a common whore" while Princess Hurley Daughter looks ashamed. Princess Eleanor tells mum that Robert's dead.
Then an American female voice begins jabbering on about Alex Gordon's face when given the news that his older brother died and that he'd be the future king. This must have something to do with the World Series and being 90 feet away, though this seems a stretch. Is the death of Robert standing in for the pain felt when losing in Game Seven of the World Series? Does Prince Robert's death symbolize the loss of Billy Butler, James Shields, and Nori Aoki to free agency? Presumably this will become more clear as the episode enters its sixth minute.
After the break, Ophelia sheepishly goes to see her father, who has a British accent, unlike Ophelia, and is apparently the King's Head of Security. Somehow that title seems to be less officious than his office behind the clock in Big Ben would lead one to believe. At first reading of the situation, he may be Rusty Kuntz, though perhaps he's an amalgam of all of the coaching staff, drawing the best qualities from each of them. If he is Kuntz, then that must make Ophelia Mitch Maier, Kuntz's baseball "son" in the form of coaching protégé. Alex Gordon's married to a lovely lady in real life, but it's television and there need to be love stories to keep the viewer engaged. Making MITCH! a woman is probably best if trying to draw in the average baseball fan, though it might have been nice to keep MITCH! a man for the sake of the show.
If Ophelia is Mitch Maier, then this is clearly set right now, in Spring Training, setting things up for the 2015 season. Great timing, ESPNExclamationPoint! Alex Gordon and Eleanor get together and lament the loss of their brother. Ginger cousins show up having flown commercial, whining. They're sort of irritating. The symbolic representation of preseason injuries?
It should be noted that the sets are rather opulent, which must owe to the largesse of Gil Meche. When looking at huge halls with murals and glorious chandeliers, it's not hard to see where the $12MM went. Extras and matte paintings for backgrounds, however, are not nearly as seamless. $12MM just doesn't go as far as it did in 2011.
Thanks for the scenery. Photo credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports
The weaselly uncle is introduced and he has designs on the throne. It would seem clear that the King is David Glass and his "brother" is really his son, Dan. Alex Gordon speaks to the camera over the swell of Volcano Choir's "Byegone" and says he's going to miss his old teammates and then spouts off at an alarmingly catty Queen Helena. If this is how Dayton Moore is behind the scenes, being around him must be miserable.
Eleanor says her dead brother is lucky, and there seems to be a bit of mystery about Robert's death. The mind runs rampant with hypotheses as to why Billy Butler was cut loose in the way he was just to sign a worse version of Billy Butler in Kendrys Morales. Furthermore, is everything in Royaldom not as peachy as it seems on the outside. Is there turmoil about which Royals fans need to worry themselves?
The soup-slurping gingers who talk of their rank smelling nether-regions and wear garish clothing must be a statement about the basement-dwelling blogging community. Ouch, Schwahn.
And then King David Glass drops the bomb. He is going to propose a referendum for the public to vote on in which to do away with the monarchy. The Royals. He seems sincere, so it doesn't seem like this is meant to be another ploy to get the citizens of Jackson County as a taxpayer handout to one of the richest owners in baseball.
Eleanor gets stoned with the bloggers/preseason injuries/Fergie's kids. Eleanor then tells King David Glass that she'd be fine with the Royals going away. This part at least would seem to be recalling the yearning of both Zack Greinke and Danny Duffy to walk away from the game forever. David Glass tells Eleanor that she's the cat's pajamas and deep down is a good person even though she is stoned and eating the Prime Minister's pie in the kitchen. This is probably his way of telling her to stop getting into it with randos on Twitter but saying that he loved that bear suit.
Dayton Moore/Elizabeth Hurley tries to strong-arm MITCH!/Ophelia into staying away from Alex Gordon and then says something terrible about her dead mother not being around to teach her better manners. If this is even close to accurate, Dayton Moore is cold-blooded.
Hilariously, Eleanor, played by an actress in her 30s, just quit university the year previously. Ophelia's mother is also dead. They both have dead people in their family. Eleanor tells Ophelia that her dad's a badass, which clearly means that Eleanor/Danny Duffy/Jerry Martin loves good coaching but bristles at being held up to standards that don't interest her/him/him. MITCH!/Ophelia runs off and gives her dad/coach a hug.
David Glass wants the Royals to cease to exist to save and free his children, the players. Does this mean that the pursuit of sport is done for impure reasons?
Party Girl goes off to Paris and has a three-way with Jasper, her assigned security detail, who drugged her and recorded their depraved sex-making on his phone. What in the hell is going on in the Royals clubhouse?
Dan and David Glass go pheasant hunting and it appears as though Dan is set to kill the King/Owner standing in the way of his destiny, but the shot rings out over his shoulder. Alex and MITCH ! go out for iced dirty chais with soy to a photog corps hilariously sparse and framed in such a way as to cover up the fact that they're just seven people with cameras while Dayton/Helena looks on disapprovingly from a balcony on high.
The obvious thing after watching this first episode is that Mark Schwahn does not know his audience. Royals fans want fire. They want stellar defense. The Latin presence was non-existent. Marcus, Prince Liam/Alex Gordon's assigned security detail was the only non-white character. Since he's got Alex's back, it's probably safe to assume that he's Lorenzo Cain.
To add insult to the injurious swing and miss of the fact that they set this story in England and made the dull and obvious leap to make them literal royalty, the writing is laughably bad. To think the Meche money was misspent this egregiously is so disrespectful to everything for which #55 stood. For shame, Mark Schwahn. For shame.
More importantly, though, if we are to take the rough state the Royals appear to be in at this juncture to be indicative of what life is like behind the scenes as Kansas City prepares for the 2015 season, then Royals fans are in for a rough year. It's hard to see how the love story between Alex Gordon and MITCH!, who will be stuck coaching in Northwest Arkansas anyway, will be enough for the Royals to persevere the many obstacles standing between them and a return to postseason glory.
Whatever happens, it's hard to qualify The Royals as a watchable, at least after one episode.