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HBO just debuted the biggest TV disappointment of 2024 so far

Published Mar 4th, 2024 2:25PM EST
Kate Winslet in The Regime on HBO
Image: Miya Mizuno/HBO

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Heading into the debut on Sunday of HBO’s The Regime, my expectations were pretty high. After all, this is the network that’s already given us biting political satire like Veep, as well as one of most tyrannical despots to ever grace the small screen in the form of Succession’s media baron Logan Roy. In addition to that track record, The Regime also wasn’t lacking in talent or star wattage. Portraying the autocratic chancellor of an unnamed Central European country, for example, is Kate Winslet, whose increasingly delusional strongwoman is also a germaphobe ensconced in a luxury hotel that she’s turned into her personal palace.

The show’s creator, Will Tracy, previously worked as a writer on Succession.

That all should have amounted to the TV version of a home run; yet, somehow, those ingredients added up to a mostly superficial prestige drama that I’m pretty sure wants to say something about power and corruption yet never quite comes out and does so. The Regime, which debuted to less-than-stellar reviews, ends up being an overly broad caricature of a despot, aims for black comedy territory, and ends up being neither funny nor terribly dark. The show certainly looks great, from the grand Versailles-like setting to the spiffy attendants uniforms and the long shots of Winslet’s Chancellor Elena Vernham marching down red-carpeted hallways with main character energy.

That said, the right-wing kleptocracy at the heart of The Regime feels like it was merely stitched together from the spare parts of real-world analogues. Like, for example, the chancellor’s desperation to succeed where her far-right father failed (a la Marine Le Pen). She works to take his fringe party mainstream, and she also still speaks to the remnants of his corpse that she’s preserved in a glass case. Meanwhile, so convinced is she of the putridness of the air around her, her phobia leads her to gulp oxygen from a tank when she’s not addressing her nation.

All in all, it’s a mesmerizing performance from Winslet, as if we’d expect anything else, in the service of … I’m not sure what, exactly.

The ugly Rotten Tomatoes scores The Regime has racked up so far from both critics as well as viewers might also suggest that, in the final analysis, now is not the time for TV shows about authoritarians destabilizing life in Europe. Especially when we have a real one threatening nuclear war, orchestrating the deaths of his opponents with impunity, and daring the civilized world to do anything about it. I suspect HBO might have found a more receptive audience for the show in a world where, to borrow a lyric from Morrissey, there weren’t so many “bad people on the rise.”

Andy Meek Trending News Editor

Andy Meek is a reporter based in Memphis who has covered media, entertainment, and culture for over 20 years. His work has appeared in outlets including The Guardian, Forbes, and The Financial Times, and he’s written for BGR since 2015. Andy's coverage includes technology and entertainment, and he has a particular interest in all things streaming.

Over the years, he’s interviewed legendary figures in entertainment and tech that range from Stan Lee to John McAfee, Peter Thiel, and Reed Hastings.