In 16th century France, the virginal Mary, Queen of Scots (Adelaide Kane), is swept up in palace intrigue. Her fiancé (Toby Regbo) cares less for her than he does for France, nattering on about the political advantage of their union. An evil queen (Megan Follows) plots against her, while her ladies-in-waiting indulge in Elizabethan-style naughtiness. All the French characters worry about English plots, even though, puzzlingly, they all speak with English accents.
The new drama “Reign” (Thursday, 8 p.m., CW) is basically “Gossip Girl” in doublets and puffy sleeves — a soap opera about beautiful young people and their transgressive behavior. But it has an advantage in that transgressive behavior was much more dangerous in the 16th century than it is today. Here, if Mary loses her head over some cute guy, she’s in danger of a literal beheading. Three cheers for a setting that has a few social rules left to break.
The series is watchable thanks to all the lovely images of castles and carriages. The loveliest of all is Mary herself. Even a hardened TV critic can’t help melting at the sight of Adelaide Kane’s dewy eyes, raven tresses and ruby lips. If I were Mary’s fiancé, France would be the last thing on my mind.
“Great Performances 40th Anniversary Celebration”
Friday, 8:30 p.m. (PBS)
“Great Performances” takes a night to reflect upon four decades’ worth of broadcasts, from plays to ballets to operas to musicals to symphonic concerts. As Julie Andrews points out, such art forms have no place on commercial TV, making this PBS series quite a public service.
Audra McDonald, David Hyde Pierce and other guest stars testify that they watched “Great Performances” as kids and thought, “I’d like to be a performer, too.” No doubt a new generation of kids is watching this celebration. I hope I’m around in 40 years to see what it inspires in them.
“Masters of Sex”
Sunday, 9 p.m. (Showtime)
Showtime had the brilliant idea of building a series around William Masters (Michael Sheen) and Virginia Johnson (Lizzie Caplan), who began their scientific research on sex in the 1950s. The subject promises plenty of flesh, plus a “Mad Men” milieu of period outfits and repressed desires. Then there’s the romantic tension between Masters and Johnson. In real life, Masters divorced his wife and married Johnson, so the writers have a surplus of dramatic possibilities.
But so far, “Masters of Sex” disappoints. The acting is wooden, and Dr. Masters makes for a particularly unprepossessing hero.
“Trust Me, I’m a Game Show Host”
Tuesday, 9:30 p.m. (TBS)
Untrustworthy hosts Michael Ian Black and D.L. Hughley present contestants with a fact apiece, only one of which is true. If the contestants pick the true one, they win money. It’s all an excuse to get Black and Hughley bantering with each other while making the case for their facts. They’re amusing liars and often convincing ones. Did Nicolas Cage build a fully functioning Starbucks in his mansion staffed by two baristas? Black will have you believing he did.
“Trust Me, I’m a Game Show Host” is a satire of game shows as well as an enjoyable game show in and of itself. CV
Dean Robbins is a syndicated TV columnist from Madison, Wis. See more of his work at www.thedailypage.com.