Francois Rousseau
Alynda Wheat
March 30, 2007 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Tudors executive producer Michael Hirst may be history’s greatest plastic surgeon. Between Cate Blanchett in Elizabeth and Jonathan Rhys Meyers in this 10-episode dramatic series, the guy has a knack for turning royals like the fat, bearded Henry VIII into hotties. It’s the rest of the makeover that gives him trouble.

The Tudors spotlights 10 years in the life of young Henry VIII, while he’s still saddled with first wife Catherine of Aragon (Maria Doyle Kennedy), chasing second wife Anne Boleyn (Natalie Dormer), and trying not to muck up the foreign policy thing. It’s all technically proficient — fine writing, splendid costumes, solid performances (even if Henry initially comes off like Entourage‘s Vinnie Chase, a pretty little nothing at the center of a far more compelling group). But it also feels so… done. Boring even. While the randy courtiers shtup like crazy, nobody appears to be having any actual fun. That’s a shame, because we’re stuck with these self-centered swells: Most of the non-nobles are pawns or afterthoughts, which makes for a disappointingly narrow slice of life. But then, the show is The Tudors, not England Sometime Around 1518.

And yet, there are great moments, like whenever Jeremy Northam’s doomed Sir Thomas More is on screen, or when Sam Neill gets his plot on as the corrupt Cardinal Wolsey. As moral opposites, they each beautifully portray complicated, messy human beings — and give The Tudors some of the grit this shiny series desperately needs.

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