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This royal flush has crept onto the small screen and networks are enjoying a new group of loyal subjects because of it. Riding the screen queens trend is an undeniably addictive drama called Reign. When announced, the series—which focuses on Mary, Queen of Scots’ turbulent days in the French court during the mid-1500s—seemed poised to be as frightfully long-winded as a BBC documentary on Stonehenge. But it isn’t.

At all. It takes dazzling and sensational liberties with history (in the pilot, a lady-in-waiting masturbates after spying on a married couple having sex). Not to mention the show’s writers and producers have injected a Melrose Place/The Sopranos sucker punch to episodes that have spurred a legion of queen memes.

The result is witty dialogue and plots that are thrilling and unapologetically soapy. The drama of crumbling empires doesn’t hold a candle to the sex scenes, which make Fifty Shades of Grey seem very PBS.

“It also has the bones of tragedy,” says creator Laurie McCarthy of her series. “Any time someone is born into something—as opposed to choosing it—they become beautiful tigers in a cage.”

Filmed partially in Toronto’s grand Casa Loma, as well as in palatial estates scattered around Ireland, Reign’s scenes and costumes are as outlandish as the show’s scheming characters. Toronto-born actress Rachel Skarsten, who plays a backbiting Queen Elizabeth I on Reign, says the episodes are so alluring because

“almost every personal decision can affect the livelihood of a whole country.”

The show is a far cry from Keeping Up With the Kardashians (which has lost almost half its viewers since last year).

“Every reality show plot pales in comparison to our history,” says Skarsten.

“When you take liberties with it, for a TV series like this, it lures viewers and even educates them.”

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