TV Review: ‘American Princess’ Rarely Captures the Magic of Renaissance Fairs

Weddings usually signal the start of a new life chapter. For many, that includes kids, a house or more fights about home decor. In the case of Manhattan socialite Amanda (Georgia Flood), the star of Lifetime’s new show “American Princess,” it means running away to the Renaissance Faire. Creator Jamie Denbo’s desire to showcase to joys and oddities of Renaissance Faire life is present within the DNA of the show. However, this fish-out-of-water device drains any ounce of charm or wit from the colorful, inventive world.

Amanda doesn’t just encounter a Renaissance Faire as a part of a lovely honeymoon. She drunkenly winds up there after discovering her husband-to-be shacking up with another woman the day of their wedding. After leaving her wedding, philandering would-be-husband, shallow friends and overbearing Mother behind, Amanda decides not to leave the world of the Renaissance Faire. By the end of the pilot, she’s made allies, such as David (Lucas Neff) the hunkie mud fighter, and enemies, like the Faire’s literal queen, Maggie (Seana Kofoed).

Georgia Flood amps up what makes Amanda struggle to fit in with the Renaissance Faire community. Unfortunately, she only finds a limited few ways to show this outsider behavior. Back to back episodes revolve around Amanda getting drunk and making a fool of herself to this newfound community. Amanda doesn’t just feel tiresome, her character also feels stagnant and repetitive. There should be a harmonious way to showcase this world and community we haven’t seen much of before, while also demonstrating growth within our protagonist.

What the show ultimately misses is the love for the Renaissance Faire. It loads the Faire up with colorful, offbeat characters, but spends all its time with the titular princess lamenting about the luxuries she doesn’t have. The show wants to have its cake and eat it too. How can it both love these cosplaying creatives while also making fun of this comical setting? There’s a way to do both, but it requires a steady hand in terms of tone.

Neff emerges as the performer who bests understands this dichotomy. Neff plays David Poland, the resident hottie of the fair who works the mud fights. The show sets him up as the love interest for Amanda. Other than our shared knowledge of how TV shows work, there’s little reason for why the two fall for each other. What’s more interesting is a later subplot where he must convince laypeople to come to the Faire with Maggie’s uppity sidekick, Brian (Rory O’Malley). There’s a playful contrast between someone who enjoys the freedom and play of being in a Renaissance Faire, versus a performer who takes it much too seriously.

This highlights both the problem and the solution for “American Princess.” Whenever the show focuses on the inner conflicts within the Renaissance Fair community, the more it comes alive. Brian gets a love interest with a local merchant at the fair that is cute and charming. There’s a playful chemistry between Brian and Maggie, whose sexual frustration feels oddly presented but could present great story potential. Everywhere one looks, there’s a subplot that’s much more interesting than the one the story is framed around.  

It takes until the fourth episode, “Why Are You Romeo?” to realize that we are supposed to love and care for this world. In the episode, Amanda’s friends from the Upper West Side, full of sneers and jeers, visit her in full Renaissance mode. Amanda convinces some of them to like the Faire, with the help of copious amounts of booze. Yet, one friend cites the #metoo movement as to why the Faire doesn’t work. The show supposedly wants us to see this friend as a stick in the mud, rather than thoughtfully engage with the points she raises. What place does a Renaissance Faire have in our current climate? What would make someone want to travel back to the past? There can be really interesting answers to these questions. Yet, the show never gets a handle on how the Faire relates to the rest of the world.

Producer Jenji Kohan has used an audience surrogate to take us into the world of women’s prison (“Orange is the New Black”). Amanda resembles Piper (Taylor Schilling) from “Orange is the New Black” in many ways. Yet, that show knew early on that it needed to explore the perspectives of the women in the prison system. Granted, a Renaissance Faire is incredibly different than the prison system. Still, there comes a point very early on where observations like “these people don’t use the same shampoo as me” or “mud is everywhere” don’t cut it. We want to learn why these other people joined the Renaissance Faire.

“American Princess” Premieres on Lifetime on Sunday, June 2nd at 9 p.m. PST. The first four episodes were reviewed.

GRADE: (★½)

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