‘The Great’ reviews: Is Hulu’s royal comedy the critics’ favourite new show?

The 10-episode comedy series “The Great” premieres on Hulu on May 15 telling a fictionalized story of the rise of Russia’s Catherine the Great (played by Elle Fanning). It was created by Tony McNamara, who earned an Oscar nomination for co-writing another skewed royal history, Yorgos Lanthimos‘s offbeat 2018 film “The Favourite.” So does his followup live up to its title?

As of this writing “The Great” has a MetaCritic score of 74 based on 16 reviews counted thus far: 11 positive, 5 somewhat mixed, none outright negative. Over on Rotten Tomatoes, which classifies reviews simply as positive or negative, the series is 80% fresh based on 25 reviews, only 5 of which are rotten. The RT critics’ consensus summarizes the reviews by saying, “Gorgeous, if gratuitous, ‘The Great’ can’t quite live up to its namesake, but delicious performances from Elle Fanning and Nicholas Hoult and a wicked sense of humor make it a pretty good watch.”

The series has been praised for its “crisp, fast-moving script” full of “acid, winning humor.” It’s “riotous,” but also “poignant.” And it “straddles the line between period drama and slapstick comedy with acrobatic ease.” Fanning “deftly embodies Catherine’s distress,” while Hoult shows that he’s “one of the funniest actors working today” with his performance as a cruel and immature Peter III. The rest of the cast is “uniformly strong” as well, though the show as a whole might have explored darker elements of Catherine instead of focusing so much on her “gumption.”

So can “The Great” do as well at the Emmys as “The Favourite” did at the Oscars? Its “sumptuous costuming” and other production values could help it stand out in Creative Arts categories. Above the line, “The Great” could be Hulu’s breakthrough in Best Comedy Series the way “The Handmaid’s Tale” was in Best Drama Series. It could also benefit as a companion piece to the HBO limited series “Catherine the Great,” which stars Helen Mirren as the title empress and is also competing in this year’s Emmy race. It’s not every year that one historical character is lavished with so much attention.

Check out some of the reviews below, and join the discussion on this and more here with your fellow TV fans.

Allison Keene (Paste): “The 10-episode series has a crisp, fast-moving script and sumptuous costuming that looks like a traditional historical drama but feels refreshingly modern in its approach. Bathed in a ‘Marie Antoinette’ meets ‘Death of Stalin’ aesthetic (and never going full ‘Dickinson’), the series’ acid, winning humor understands the familiar absurdity of an age filled with the constant juxtaposition of wealth and brutality.”

Niv M. Sultan (Slant): “Tony McNamara’s alternately riotous and poignant Hulu miniseries ‘The Great’ begins with the future Catherine the Great (Elle Fanning) leaving Austria for Russia to marry the country’s emperor … This historical freewheeling feeds into ‘The Great’s’ broader irreverence, which comes through in every jarringly crass line coated in period-drama affect … Fanning deftly embodies Catherine’s distress as the character’s sense of self shatters.”

Caroline Framke (Variety): “‘The Great’ straddles the line between period drama and slapstick comedy with acrobatic ease. Catherine, Peter, and their various minions spit scathingly funny insults at each other. The punchlines come as swift and lacerating as Peter’s temper … The cast is uniformly strong, and the series’ brisk and deliberate pacing makes sure to let each central actor show it … In particular, Hoult … proves why he’s not-so-secretly one of the funniest actors working today.”

Inkoo Kang (Hollywood Reporter): “A more complex show might have explored the delusions necessary to believe oneself the savior of a nation one’s just arrived in … Instead, ‘The Great’ is too busy celebrating her gumption … Despite stellar performances by Fanning and Hoult, ‘The Great,’ by sticking a pure-hearted heroine in a world where heroism seems impossible, never quite adds up to a coherent whole.”

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