This article contains some spoilers for Young Royals.
WIth an overabundance of teenage-oriented romance shows on television at the moment, it can be hard to conjure up a reason to watch yet another one. Every streaming service seems to have something in the genre to fit a need, whether that be a gay protagonist, a female hero, or an ensemble cast. It’s very difficult to stand out amongst the crowd because there are very few places left untapped in exploring adolescent life styles.
Enter Young Royals, a Swedish-produced LGTBQ romance drama that was released on Netflix at the beginning of July. When Prince Wilhelm (Edvin Ryding) is sent to boarding school by the Queen after getting in some trouble at a nightclub, he feels out of his element and overwhelmed with expectations. His only reprieve from the rigidity of this environment comes when he meets Simon (Omar Rudberg), a kind and charismatic child of an immigrant mother.
Prince Wilhelm and Simon’s burgeoning relationship eventually turns into one of the most evocative and explorative love stories in contemporary queer TV. A keen understanding from the writers and actors of what can make a show like this stand out amongst a repetitive crowd of competitors is what will hopefully lead to enough viewership for many more seasons. Here are some more reasons you should watch Young Royals.
The Teenagers Actually Look and Behave Like Teenagers
Far too often the young people in coming-of-age entertainment vehicles look, act, and feel a little too mature for actual teens to relate to on any sort of deeper level. The actors who are casted infamously have birth dates well before the people they are portraying on-screen (Darren Barnet, who plays 16 year old Paxton Hall-Yoshida on Mindy Kaling’s hit series Never Have I Ever, is a whopping 13 years older than his character!) Not only does this force an unrealistic standard of beauty on the viewers to live up to, it also breaks up the immersive quality that truly great TV possesses to transport us to different worlds that connect to our own.
Edvin Ryding is 18 and Omar Rudberg is 22. With faces spotted with pimples and makeup sparsely used to mask other superficial blemishes on the actors, the people in this show seem like they could show up at any secondary school in your neighborhood and fit right in. This provides an authenticity to the storytelling that you simply don’t get with the majority of teen romance media. Perhaps the reason for such realism is because European filmmakers strive for higher artistic standards when filming, shunning the degrading expectations of sexiness and maturity that directors in the United States have grown obsessed with. Whatever the reasoning behind it is, the show’s casting is a breath of fresh air.
The Story Skips the Often-Redundant Coming Out Journey
I want to start by getting one thing very clear: the coming out journey is one of the most important tropes used in LGBTQ movies and television; I wrote a whole essay on how Love, Victor’s exquisite and heartfelt depiction of this plot point helped me come out of the closet in my own life. When done properly, this storyline can be both inspirational and important to the young queer community. The problem is that far too often the coming out process is the only focus, and all of the other dynamics of gay teenage life get shelved and under-examined.
Young Royals gives you a negligible amount of hand-holding when it comes to spelling out the sexuality of the two protagonists: Simon mentions in one conversation with his dad that he is gay, and Wilhelm’s own musings are so focused on the former that we know immediately how smitten he is with his charming classmate. There is a little bit of internal denial from Wilhelm when he tells Simon he “isn’t like that” after they share an awkward first kiss, but we know he’s kidding neither us nor his lover.
The intense romantic energy is so new, raw, and real that there is no need for anybody to come out; it’s obvious that these two are gay as hell for each other and that discovery is absolutely beautiful. As mentioned, though, Wilhelm is a part of a royal family and publicly coming out as a celebrity is a whole different topic that the show sets up nicely for in a possible second season.
Sexual Expression is Explored on an Emotional Level
The show is rated TV-MA, but it can’t possibly be for nudity or graphic sexual expression. The passion between Wilhelm and Simon is certainly physical to an extent, but the little things, the tiny moments of young love are so much more meaningful than watching two actors maul one another like wild animals or porn stars. Short kisses in the forest, holding hands while watching a movie, and dropping off a quick breakfast in class are all amongst the enviable acts of emotional desire that are displayed from the characters.
TV shows rarely understand what actual love looks like in the real world. It isn’t always 12 hours spent in the bedroom or excessive PDA in front of classmates and family. It’s what two people feel about each other that words can’t possibly describe. It’s an emotion that bonds a couple into one. Wilhelm tells Simon when professing his love midway through the season that nothing in his life feels real except for how he feels about him (a line improvised by Edvin Ryding). That’s so much more than a one-night stand or a cheap hookup and it’s something every other teen rom-com should learn from and aspire to emulate.
A Delicate Discussion on Classism in Relationships
A melancholy sticking point in the relationship between Wilhelm and Simon is their difference in social class. Wilhelm is the second-in-line to the throne of Sweden while Simon is the poor son of an immigrant mother who cannot afford to live on campus at the boarding school the characters attend. When the two boys are together, money and celebrity status become irrelevant. It’s an absolutely beautiful give and take where both kids get to learn how attraction has nothing to do with societal expectations and pressures, but keeping a relationship definitely does.
When their love affair gets leaked in a sex tape á la Kim Kardashian, Wilhelm is expected to hide his sexuality and his desire for someone low on the social ladder. The way both young men work together to figure out a common ground solution is simultaneously touching and heartbreaking, as homophobia within the Swedish Kingdom makes the love forbidden and creates the main tension in the finale’s climax. Classism is such an underutilized topic in romance stories and Young Royals does a great job finding that fine line between forcing the issue and exploring it thoroughly.
A Small, Strong Cast
Many shows that follow a romance struggle to give equal screen time to both parties. It can be tempting to flesh out the main protagonist more fully than divide attention among both characters. If you add in supporting roles around the couple it can get really flimsy in the hands of a shoddy screenwriting team.
This show only has three true supporting roles: August, Sara, and Felice. This leaves plenty of material for both Wilhelm and Simon to be equals in spite of the central focus being on Wille. When you get to see the POV of each person independent of the other, it becomes a much richer experience and you are more easily able to sympathize with both young men instead of taking sides during a conflict. Their personal lives, especially their unique family dynamics help inform the audience about the romance. By the end of the six episodes, you feel like Wilhelm and Simon are amongst your own social circle because you know them intimately. That just doesn’t happen with most coming-of-age series.
All six episodes of Young Royals season 1 are available to stream on Netflix now.