So, we finally struggled through the final season of the Tudors. It’s been clear for some time (say, early in season one) that this was not a series that deserved attention in the same family as the best of the HBO and Showtime series, but it’s remarkable how weakly the series ended. Some thoughts:
- Whether because of the writing or because of Jonathan Rhys Meyer’s limitations as an actor, it became apparent by the end of the first season that Henry VIII as depicted in this series was just not a very interesting character. Comparison with the Sopranos is instructive; we become aware in season six, through Dr. Melfi, that Tony isn’t really going to grow or change as a character in any productive way. He was a sociopath in season one, and he was a sociopath in season six; the experience and analysis weren’t going to change that. In Tudors, the deficiencies of the main character become clear pretty early on, and yet the series continues for another three years; unsurprisingly, when nothing of much interest can happen to the main character, the series gets fairly boring. What we were watching, essentially, was the court of Saddam Hussein; that could be somewhat interesting, but the focus then needs to be on the interesting characters and machinations in that court. This leads to the second point…
- With a few exceptions, the producers were unable to produce any useful supporting characters around Meyers. Part of this was due to necessity, of course; there could be no Carmela in this series. Nevertheless, the inability to make the supporting cast interesting is inexcusable. There were exceptions; Sam Neill did a fine job as Cardinal Woolsey, James Frain did good work as Thomas Cromwell, Sarah Bolger was solid as Princess Mary, and Alan Van Sprang produced a lively Francis Bryan. Unfortunately, the great bulk of sidekick time was handed to Henry Cavill’s Charles Brandon, who had an almost singular ability to say and do nothing of any interest at all.
- The Tudors had an absurd number of side characters and side plots that had no meaningful impact on the course of the overall storyline. Several times during the series, the wife and I would watch a murder or seduction scene, then openly wonder who the characters were and why we should care what happened to them. Payoffs for these incidental asides would be rare; who really cared about the saga of Reginald Pole?
- For some reason, the producers believed that signing big name actors then giving them nothing to do and failing to integrate them into the storyline was a great idea. We get Peter O’Toole as the Pope for some reason, and Henry Czerny as the Duke of Norfolk with three lines in an entire season, and Max Von Sydow as some guy who was somewhere for some reason that was utterly peripheral to the main story. Producers should sign actors with some sense of what those actors are for; nobody watched the Tudors in order to see Peter O’Toole shamble about and make proclamations on a sound stage miles away from the rest of the cast.
I’d like to say that I’m looking forward to the Borgias, which is apparently by the same producers, and stars Jeremy Irons. I’d like to say that..