Show 101: The Tudors

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PREMIERES: The fourth and final season debuts on Sunday, April 11 at 9pm on Showtime. Only two more queens to go!

WHY YOU MIGHT LIKE IT: As far as crazy rulers go, Henry VIII is definitely up there—and if history has taught us anything, it's that crazy people always make for entertaining television. So if you like watching impulsive monarchs change the course of history forever, tune in. The show's writers deftly weave an intense drama out of the complex relationships within the Tudor court and the kingdom's role in 16th-century Europe. The show's unexpected casting has made for some great performances, with Sam Neill as a discerning Thomas Wolsey, Peter O'Toole as an exceptionally irreverent Pope Paul III, and even Joss Stone as a German-accented Anne of Cleeves. Plus, it's hard not to get a big kick out of Jonathan Rhys Meyers as Henry VIII, because if you’ve ever seen that Hans Holbein portrait of ol' Hank, you’ll likely agree that looks-wise, he could have been played by, say, Simon Pegg. That said, it's impossible not to get drawn into Meyers' emotional performance—especially when he flashes his crazy eyes.

WHY YOU MIGHT HATE IT: If you’re a stickler for absolute historical accuracy, this show is not for you. The writers have taken liberties with both the historical timeline and characters who populate it in order to create a more compelling, twist-filled, and sexed-up period piece. Filled with tyranny, sappy sex scenes, English accents, beheadings, and harpsichords, The Tudors takes itself very seriously; you won't find any self-deprecating humor here. Avoid the show if you have a hard time believing that everyone back then had such good teeth.

THE PREMISE: Like Rome, The Tudors is historical drama series. While the show focuses mostly on the personal life of the very impulsive and arrogant Henry VIII, it also takes an in-depth look at the king's political advances and downfalls, the rise of the Church of England, the spread of Protestantism, the Pilgrimage of Grace, and the ongoing battles between England and its neighboring empires.

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW: Well, there are a lot of characters and plotlines to track, so here's the very abridged version. Henry divorced his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, because she gave birth only to a daughter (Mary) and not a male heir. Plus, the king had already fallen in love with Anne Boleyn. With the help of Chancellor Thomas Wolsey (who eventually fell out favor) the king tried to receive the pope's consent to divorce Catherine, but was eventually denied. As a result, he separated from the Roman Church, declared himself king of the Church of England, and married Anne. Many people found the marriage reprehensible, including Thomas More, (author of Utopia) who was eventually beheaded for not attending the queen's coronation and not supporting the king's break from the Catholic church. Like Henry's first wife Catherine, Anne was only able to birth a girl (who eventually became Queen Elizabeth I), which didn't fulfill Henry's quest for a male heir—so he started courting Jane Seymour. Before long, Henry had Anne Boleyn beheaded for high treason; then he married Jane, and she gave birth to Edward VI. Jane died not long after, leaving Henry devastated. Under the advice of chief minister Thomas Cromwell, Henry married Anne of Cleves to create a stronger alliance with Germany. But Henry wasn't jazzed about Anne's appearance, and resented Cromwell for his advice. Once Henry learned of Cromwell's heretical devotion to Protestantism, Henry had Cromwell beheaded for treason. When we last saw the king, he was courting the 17-year-old Catherine Howard and annulling his marriage to Anne of Cleves. Which makes young Catherine queen number five.

At the start of Season 4, a jousting injury has caused Henry to gain an exceptional amount of weight, and his health is in decline. The thought of Jonathan Rhys Meyers as an unattractive man is incentive alone to watch.

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