Nothing Is Sacred in BBC America’s ‘Almost Royal’ (And It’s Awesome)

Almost Royal (BBC America) Episode 1 & 2 Los Angeles/Boston (2)

BBC America’s first original comedy/reality series Almost Royal, premiering with back-to-back episodes tonight, Saturday, June 21st at 10PM, is a squirm-inducing exercise in embarrassment humor for all parties involved. The series follows British aristocrats Poppy (Amy Hoggart) and Georgie (Ed Gamble) Carlton, who are the 51st and 50th in line to the Throne, respectively. The siblings embark on a journey across America to fulfill the wish of the dead father who died tragically when he accidentally shot himself in the face when his bullet ricocheted off of a no shooting sign. (“It was a terrible waste of a life…and a sign,” Georgie deadpans.)

As a straight concept for a sitcom, watching two over-the-top, posh British siblings tour America sounds mildly interesting. However, Almost Royal follows in the grand tradition of Sacha Baron Cohen’s Borat by having Hoggart and Gamble interact in character with actual Americans, some who appear to cotton on to the joke while others remain oblivious, much to the discomfort and pleasure of the audience. Happily,Almost Royal is refined in its skewering of the extremes of both American and British culture, and manages to maintain humor without becoming mean-spirited.

Poppy and Georgie are the picture of the vapid, grinning pseudo royalty that exists in the upper crust of English (and American) society, exaggerated just enough to make their outlandish cluelessness come off as brilliance. Poppy is particularly transcendent with her eternal deadpan deliveries and sincere disinterest in everything happening around her that does not actually involve her. After visiting a meeting of the American Tea Party, she scoffs about the lack of tea and abundance of politics. Meanwhile, Georgie takes naivety to all new levels as he confesses to a kind passerby that he did not know tires came off of cars and later asks a war reenactor if he can stuff a bit of his father’s ashes into the man’s canon.

Watching the Americans react to their British guests is Almost Royal‘s greatest strength. Some of the participants appear to be in on the joke and gamely play along with whatever terrific nonsense Poppy and Georgie spout at them. Take for instance the pickup baseball game the duo crash; it is clear the team is aware they are being baited and they are excellent sports about it. They teach Georgie all the ways in which baseball is unlike cricket, and Poppy dryly drops a Ghost reference when a team member gets handsy while teaching her how to swing a bat.

It’s not all gentle fun on Almost Royal; the series ventures into the more radical parts of American culture as well, and in the Boston episode that means the aforementioned visit to a Tea Party meeting. The participants there either wanted the exposure or were unaware of the joke. Going inside the meeting, watching Georgie and Poppy yawn, ask pointed questions and insist the chapter’s leader pick a favorite bit of the Constitution is just this side of bearable thanks to the series not pushing things too far and cleverly using cuts to minimize our discomfort while still allowing us to bask in the priceless reaction shots. The series does not pull its punches as it showcases the group’s vehement passion and anger about the political climate, but the group should get kudos for never snapping at Poppy and Georgie for hijacking their meeting– at least not on camera.

Tolerance of embarrassment humor is key to appreciating Almost Royal. It is good to know neither the American or the British culture escapes the skewering. Between Poppy and Georgie’s pampered antics and the authentic Americans who pass through, the series walks a fine line between being a farce and being factual. Mostly, it’s just outrageously funny and endlessly quotable (“Plane!”). Hoggart and Gamble admirably commit to their characters no matter how uncomfortable an interaction becomes and the end result is two characters so charmingly oblivious they can get away with anything. On the reality side, Almost Royal proves America is filled with characters both off-kilter and genuinely kind. Almost Royal showcases the best and worst of both countries, but just the best of comedy.

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