Has the new season of The Crown fallen foul of the TV series reality that season 4 is as good as it gets asks CONSTANTINOS PSILLIDES
There’s an old adage regarding TV shows: season 4 is when they usually peak. The first season is more of a pilot, an audience test balloon to see how viewers respond. Season 2 and 3 is when the producers build their storylines and use that sweet, sweet extra budget money studios throw their way after the initial success. Season 4 is where all shows have built their audience, cut through the ocean of other shows and deliver the emotional pay-off for those who stuck through the first three seasons. Anything after the fourth season is usually just the studios milking their shows for what they are worth, tossing artistic integrity aside, a practice commonly known as ‘Pulling a Walking Dead’.
Seriously though, it is rare to find a show that is as good as when it first started, Better Call Saul being the only exception that comes to mind. After the fourth season, shows usually resort to increasingly ridiculous and belief-suspending storylines, to the point they end up being a caricature of themselves. Fun fact: when a show reaches that point, industry people say that “it has jumped the shark”. The term comes from the beloved 70s sitcom Happy Days, when during the show’s fifth season, the loveable greaser Fonzy went to the beach and jumped with his water skis over a shark, wearing a leather jacket. The scene was so ridiculous and out of place that it gave birth to a term used today when shows employ absurd plot devices.
I’m writing this to give an indication of my state of mind when I sat down to watch Peter Morgan’s fifth season of the celebrated show The Crown.
Well-paced, brilliantly acted, The Crown has been a massive success for streaming giant Netflix. I have been a fan of the show since the beginning (Claire Foy will always be the best Queen, and that’s a hill I’m willing to die on) and enjoyed watching the story of the now-late Queen Elizabeth unfold. Morgan won over audiences with his blending of behind-the-scenes fiction and historical events, dazzling everyone with the secret life of the British royal family, wrapped up in almost individual storylines in each episode.
But good faith can only get you so far.
The deck was now stacked against Morgan. Post-season-four fatigue, concern over a new cast taking over (the series is broken down into two-season chunks, representing different periods and each time the whole cast is changed) and criticism from audiences and the media. As the series comes closer to the present, fact-checking increases, and a historical show that is wildly inaccurate is crippling to its reputation. People close to the royal family attacked the previous season’s portrayal of Charles and Diana and how it dissolved into pure hatred, with Charles verbally abusing his then-wife.
As if that wasn’t enough, Queen Elizabeth has since died. That the show’s real-life protagonist died only two months before the season premiered brought the studio an impossible dilemma. A poll by the BBC after the Queen died showed that over 80 per cent of people had a favourable opinion of her. Her death was a significant blow to a country already unravelling. The Crown was already in the crosshairs because of last season’s depiction of the royal family, and painting the newly deceased Queen in a negative light so soon after her death was sure to create a colossal backlash.
Adding to the tinder box is mounting opposition to the series by celebrities like Dame Judi Dench and some of the people portrayed in the show.
So, does the show exceed expectations and achieve the rare 5th season victory? Is it be respectful of its subjects? Will it be a soaring triumph or a humbling defeat?
Turns out, the truth is somewhere in the middle. The Crown is still enjoyable as a series, but you must leave historical accuracy at the door. Imelda Staunton takes the reins, and her portrayal of the Queen is respectful, but the season mainly focuses on the relationship between Charles and Diana, played by Dominic West and Elizabeth Debicki. There are intense moments, there are dull, unnecessary moments and moments that will make you murmur ‘well, that was redundant’. Overall, the series progresses as expected, slowly fizzling down to the sixth and final season. For the fans, it’s just another chapter, the inescapable conclusion of a young love that now has turned stale by routine.
We have been here many times before, and the magic is gone.