“The Crown” Season 4: All Ten Episodes Ranked According to a Guy Who Barely Knows Royal Family Stuff

Olivia Colman as Queen Elizabeth!

Queen Olivia Colman looks upon Margaret Thatcher and just doesn’t know what to make of her.

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover: last spring my wife Anne and I binged the first three seasons of Netflix’s The Crown and soon caught up with the rest of fandom. One slight hitch: while Anne is a major history aficionado, that was never my forte, especially not the story of Queen Elizabeth II and her ruled subjects, some of whom are incidentally also her family:

Compared to my blissfully ignorant self, Anne is far more knowledgeable of history in general and British royalty in particular. My interest in their reigning family went dormant for decades beginning on the morning of July 29, 1981, when my family woke up at 5 a.m. — over summer vacation, mind you — to watch Prince Charles marry Princess Diana, two strangers I knew only as frequent costars of my mom’s favorite tabloids. Their wedding lasted approximately six days and was performed entirely in slow motion with British golf commentators prattling through the lengthy silences in between the happenstances of nothingness. For the next 15-20 years I retained nothing of British history apart from their role as the Big Bad in the American Revolution. Frankly, I’ve learned more about their country’s storied past from my wife and from Oscar-nominated movies than I ever did from school. Sad, unadorned truth.

So far I’ve enjoyed The Crown anyway, and understood most of what’s gone on…

Season four may be its best yet. Olivia Colman gets comfy enough to have fun on the throne, Tobias Menzies bemuses and is bemused from the sidelines (for a while, anyway), Helena Bonham Carter selectively empathizes with other outsiders in their own skewed orbits, and Josh O’Connor triples his screen time as Prince Charles, the put-upon whiner who thinks he’s aged into a thwarted hero, doesn’t see himself becoming the villain. They’ve managed to survive into those lovable ’80s, when two new names emerged to take places for themselves in the British pantheon. Gillian Anderson transforms into Margaret Thatcher, the uncompromising Prime Minister who inspired thousands of destitute punk bands and numerous low-budget films about the political rage and hopelessness she instilled; and Emma Corrin (Pennyworth) as young Diana Spencer, who inspired thousands of tabloid reporters, paparazzi, impressionable little girls, and fabulous fashion mavens.

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The 10 Best Episodes of “The Crown” So Far According to a Guy Who Barely Knows Royal Family Stuff

Olivia Colman and The Crown!

From Hot Fuzz to Broadchurch to The Night Manager to The Favourite and more, Olivia Colman has already been ruling for years.

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover: a while back I spent an entire weekend watching the first episodes of twenty different series across multiple platforms. That experience provided us a blueprint for our binge-watching over the subsequent months. I haven’t written about everything we’ve watched, but since that entry my wife Anne and I have gone through Netflix’s Unbelievable (harrowing and unforgettable), Wild Wild Country (surprising and at times Too Much, by which I mean too much padding, but altogether illuminating), the first two seasons of House of Cards (despite potentially tossing fifty cents into Kevin Spacey’s tin cup), a wholly unrelated and regrettable detour for Tiger King (now we get all the references, but at a steep cost to our souls), and, far less dishonorably, all three seasons of The Crown.

My brief thoughts on the latter’s pilot:

Some early reviews had led us to believe writer Peter Morgan’s longform follow-up to his Best Picture nominee “The Queen” amounted to “Royal Sexytime”. Perhaps later down the road, the sight of Queen Elizabeth II snogging Prince Philip may be lying in wait to drive us to the brink of horror, like that one Marvel miniseries that dared readers to visit Aunt May’s heyday as a horny teen. Mercifully the first chapter didn’t go there and seemed much like any other British costume drama, save a few expletives and the Eleventh Doctor’s bare butt. Bonus points for casting consummate professional Jared Harris to take over for Colin Firth as King George VI. A pity Elizabeth herself hardly figured into her own story at first. Presumably Claire Foy has more lines later?

Thankfully she did, except in scenes where she consigned herself to historically accurate silence for the sake of burying feelings like true British royalty. Thirty episodes later, we’re caught up with other viewers and ready for more. Until season four presumably hits the broadband waves later this year, all we can do for now is ruminate on what we have on hand.

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“Downton Abbey”: For Fans and Country

Downton Abbey!

Perhaps a bit smaller than stately Wayne Manor, but it’ll have to do.

We thought we’d seen the last of our favorite early-20th-century British property owners, their splendidly ornate possessions, their struggle to maintain their lifestyle even as all their peers fail in droves, and the working-class employees who were more like us. Even though the series finale brought closure and a happy ending — without the doom and gloom that traumatized us in earlier years, no less — leave it to writer/creator Julian Fellowes to confound those expectations and serve one last course of fan service for Anglophiles.

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