Review: The Great

There's one more month before the third season of Find Me in Paris drops on Hulu. While you're waiting, a good alternative for your royal escapist needs is the Hulu original series The Great. This new historical drama follows in the footsteps of the CW's Reign by presenting a vaguely fictionalized account of a real-life female monarch, Catherine the Great. Since it was created exclusively for Hulu, the show contains some mature content that could not have aired on network television and is therefore not appropriate for children. Though some of this content can be mildly disturbing or violent, the series treats itself primarily as a light-hearted comedy, which is something we can all use after the hardships that this year has brought us.

The Great on Hulu

You may want to study up a little on Catherine the Great before streaming this show, but it's not required reading. The Great was created more for the purposes of entertainment than education, so those of us who are not well versed in Russian monarchies should take everything with a grain of salt. People who are familiar with the life of Catherine the Great may have a better understanding and appreciation of which details the series were portrayed accurately while getting annoyed by the details that were made up. Personally, I have limited knowledge of history and was pleased to find that this show had plenty of sharp writing and witty dialogue without feeling like a history lesson. The characters' personalities were so exaggerated that they were almost cartoonish in nature. The quick cuts between scenes and accelerated pacing that the show makes it easy viewing for modern audiences with low attention spans.

Catherine begins as a traditional Disney Princess who wishes to find true love in her arranged marriage to Peter III, the emperor of Russia, and to carry her new kingdom into a peaceful age of enlightenment. Her naive fantasies are crushed when she learns that her new husband is quite possibly the most repulsive person who ever lived. She decides that Russia would be better off with a new leader, so she teams up with her companions at court to stage a coup against her husband. The only problem is that Catherine spent most of her life as a naive idealistic princess in Germany and knows nothing about being sneaky and underhanded, so most of her attempts to overthrow him go hilariously wrong. Her stubbornly optimistic nature won't let a little thing like that get in her way, though. The line that stuck with me the most from this show was Catherine's response whenever someone asks her how she will overthrow the emperor with her limited experience and allies. "Cleverly," she says, which is an excellent way to exude confidence while avoiding the tricky part of coming up with an actual plan.

The Great follows up all of its dark humor with a bit of a sour note. It only has one season available so far, but the finale sets the stage for a second season. After Catherine finally discovers the love she had been longing for, she is ultimately forced to choose between the good of her heart and the good of her kingdom, a seemingly impossible decision. I was genuinely impressed by how deep and thought-provoking the finale was after so many episodes that made light of common issues from the Renaissance era and went to great lengths to tease us with whatever ridiculously stupid idea Peter III was going to come up with next. The dichotomy between Catherine's idealism and the dark twisted world around her served as both a constant source of humor and a constant foreboding that she would need to suffer some sort of great loss in order to become strong and "clever" enough to wield the power that she wishes to claim.

Overall, The Great is a sharp-witted and entertaining historical drama with a colorful cast of characters. It taught me some things about history that I didn't know, but there is a footnote at the beginning of every episode that the show is only "vaguely" based on historical events. A particular treat for Disney Princess fans is that Catherine is played by Elle Fanning, who recently started as a grown-up Princess Aurora in Maleficent 2. In some ways, this series continues her journey from princess to queen by forcing her to lose what little remains of her stubborn ideals in order to become a competent leader. As a historical drama, it has little to offer in terms of fantasy, but the clever writing and witty dialogue make it worth the ten-hour binge.


PrincessContent said…
This seems to be an rising trend. To make costume dramas with a dark comedy twist. The Favourite starring Emma Stone, Rachel Weisz and Olivia Colman is one I can think of from the top of my head.

Also, the Barbie Princess Adventure teaser is out! :D
Lisa Dawn said…
That's terrific! Thanks for letting me know!

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