So, I selected this show under the (mistaken) impression it was some kind of comedic mini-series about the early life of Catherine the Great and her rise to power. I was thinking it unlikely that Hulu would get the likes of Elle Fanning and Nicholas Hoult to any sort of long term contract for a TV show no matter how lavish. Then I learned that not only is it not a series, but Hulu has already renewed it for a second season.
Then I saw the title card for the first episode where it said it is “occasionally based on a true story”.
I think I may like this one after all.
The series opens with Catherine, happily telling her friend that she’s soon to be married to Emperor Peter way out in Russia. Catherine is a romantic who sees this as the possibility of a grand, romantic life. Her friend is…more skeptical.
And then we get to Russia and, well, Peter is…kind of awful. Catherine has a grand vision of what sex is like. Peter for their wedding night barely does anything and seems distracted by duck calls. Catherine tries again later, showing up naked in Peter’s room, only to find another woman there (and she’s married) and Peter insists Catherine join them.
Peter is sexist, inclined to drinking and fighting, and likes to fire guns. The woman he’s sleeping with, her husband is sitting nearby the whole time. And while he initially gives Catherine permission to build a school to modernize Russia in a small way, he soon has it burned down when he discovers it’s for teaching girls.
Oh, and he keeps his mother’s mummified corpse in his room. She was the Empress before Peter, and she may inadvertently be Catherine’s only hope, especially after Peter pops her one to show how abusive he could be when he isn’t being nice and Catherine’s attempts to mail herself back to Vienna fail when Peter has her trunk dunked in a river. Basically, there seems to be only one way out for the highly disillusioned Catherine.
However, before she can slit her wrist, her maidservant Marial, a former noblewoman, has an idea. See, Russia has some different ideas on how monarchy works. If Peter dies, then Catherine can become Empress, and Russia could use a monarch who isn’t a selfish moron.
So, we have our premise, Catherine has a goal, and now she needs to recruit a few more allies before she can get much of anything done. And there is one Count Orlo who thinks she might have some good ideas, but everyone laughs at him in court. Maybe she can start with that guy.
Something like that may even be occasionally true.