For its first original comedy, BBC America takes its name literally. On the “BBC” side of things, there’s Georgie and Poppy Carlton (Ed Gamble and Amy Hoggart), a pair of spoiled rotten, aristocratic siblings who are 50th and 51st in line for the British throne, respectively. On the “America” side, there’s the show’s travelogue of the United States. The show kicks off just after Georgie and Poppy’s father suffers a fatal accident; his dying wish was that his children see America, a country he loved. So they trot off across the Atlantic to make nice with their former subjects, beginning by taking on the superficial sides of Los Angeles and the residual colonial patriotism of Boston and Philadelphia.
In the tradition of Sacha Baron Cohen’s Borat: Cultural Learnings Of America For Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, Gamble and Hoggart are the only actors on the show—though it’s unclear whether the people they encounter are in on the joke or not. Part of this comes from not knowing whom exactly the show is skewering: Georgie and Poppy are presented as vacuous snobs, but they are most often thrown together with Americans intended as obvious comedic fodder. This includes a carefully preserved plastic surgeon with a stray wink (“he looked like a frozen cat”), the Worcester, Massachusetts, chapter of the tea party (who take Poppy’s “do you like Barack Obama?” bait as well as expected), and that great American icon, Fabio.
It’s a fine concept for a TV show, but dropping Georgie and Poppy into America right off the bat means that Almost Royal misses a crucial opportunity. Seeing the pair in their element—likely at the Royal Ascot nursing Earl Grey with the Duchess Of Kent—would have given their failures in America more weight. More importantly, it would give the Carltons context beyond “basic British snobs.”
The other problem is that Georgie and Poppy aren’t just clueless, but that they are deeply stupid. When renting a car, Georgie stops to ask the dealer “what sorts of places” the car goes. The dumbfounded look he gets in return reads less like a punchline and more like an obligation. More confusing still, Georgie then has no comment on the fact that Americans drive on the opposite side of the road. Now, making Georgie and Poppy unintelligent isn’t a poor choice on its own, but Almost Royal does so much better when it lets these characters get specific about their privileged upbringing. Georgie being unaware that cars can drive to all sorts of places yields far fewer laughs than when he expresses his outrage that the tea party lacked tea (“I am spitting feathers!”), or when he reads a speech that’s just the roster of his primary-school cricket team (“Archie Froggert, Hugh Donnington-Smythe, Wally Thomas…”).
Still, Gamble and Hoggart are appealing actors who are up to the challenge of anchoring this show. They speak with the same gilded drawl that oozes privilege with every curled syllable. Gamble’s wide-eyed naïf Georgie lands most of the harder jokes through his giddy bewilderment: “I shot a man in the face while wearing a skirt! Dad would’ve been very proud and disappointed at the same time.” It’s Hoggart, however, who runs away with the show. Her deadpan Poppy has some asides that could give April Ludgate a run for her money, even as Poppy doesn’t realize anyone might find her anything other than delightful. She starts a meeting with the plastic surgeon by asking if he can make her “look less like [her] mother,” and ends it by asking if he “still might make it as a heart surgeon.” She greets a line of men with the same robotic greeting (“how do you do, did you travel far?”), and tells a historian that British Paul Revere was “a little bit of a snitch.” If Almost Royals is unsure where it should mine its laughs, Poppy’s nonchalant rudeness is a good place to start.