With the massive number of television shows these days, swiping through options on streaming services is becoming more like walking through the aisles of a bookstore. There are the big titles that everyone gravitates to, splashily on display up front, and the smaller ones hidden away like treasures in the back corner. Young Royals is one of those latter shows, a slow-burn romance that has audiences in certain circles of the internet going crazy.
Think of Young Royals as a prime example of what happens when television meets Tumblr. A niche, queer story made in Sweden, featuring a devilishly handsome queer couple and the boarding school drama that surrounds them, the series has captured the minds of young audiences thanks to an electric character chemistry and a soundtrack that will have you pulling out your phone to tag at least one song in every episode. The only problem? Its second season gets a little less queer and a little too straight, forcing us to wait too long for what we came for.
The series begins when a young Swedish prince, Wilhelm (Edvin Ryding), is forced to enroll in an elite boarding school for royals, Hillerska, in order to better his party-boy image. It’s the same institution his brother, Prince Erik (Ivar Forsling), and mother, Queen Kristina (Pernilla August), attended when they were younger, so they think it’s only natural for Wilhelm to follow suit. Ironically, this only makes things worse for the “royal image” when Wilhelm falls in love with Simon (Omar Rudberg).
In its first season, Young Royals does a great job commenting on class and privilege, often highlighting the differences between the lives of Simon and his sister, Sara (Frida Argento), as non-boarders at Hilerska, who aren’t royal and can’t afford the boarding fees. It’s a classic tale of royal family member falling in love with someone in the working class but with a modern and queer twist. Things quickly go south for them, though, when a classmate, August (Malte Gardinger), catches Simon and Wilhelm having sex and secretly films it for leverage. In a series of unfortunate events, not only does the video go public, forcing Wilhelm to publicly deny involvement and hiding his relationship with Simon, but his brother dies in a car crash, leaving him as the sole heir to the Swedish throne.
Adamant about not being kept a secret, Simon breaks up with Wilhelm, and season two of Young Royals picks up on a new year, with both of them trying for fresh starts, despite still clearly being in love with each other. Meanwhile, Sara gets the amazing opportunity to board at Hillerska this year, rooming with her best friend, Felice (Nikkita Uggla), giving her an opportunity to learn essential social skills and a chance to feel more like a part of the group than she did as a day-schooler last year.
While its slow-burn romance sucked us in in season one, that very same energy this time around feels like more of a punishment. Audiences will find themselves wanting to will the story forward, to hurry up and get to the point we all know is coming, but the series spends too much time trying to coax you into thinking these characters are into anything but each other. Simon finds a new beau, but their chemistry never rivals that of he and Wilhelm, making it extra hard to believe that this would be something that’s the endgame. And as far as Sara’s new status as a boarder, in season two, there’s also less commentary on the class differences between her family and the kids she goes to school with, with the exception of a small birthday-gift plot.
This season is more focused on tradition, growth, and acceptance of duty. Which are worthy topics that bring up a lot of questions: What is the point of tradition, if it forces us to hide from the truest parts of ourselves? Why should we accept things purely because that’s how they’ve always been? But in the show, these themes are treated a little too on the nose, particularly when Simon is asked to write a new modern theme for Hillerska that ends up being a love song for Wilhelm.
And it’s a little ironic that the show chose to run on themes of questioning tradition when it forces its main characters to stick to it so much. It’s not until the final episode that our characters are given opportunities to fight back against norms. Meanwhile, other queer plots in the series are shoved under the rug, with a budding romance between two women only getting a brief mention without any chance to grow, while a potential romance between Wilhelm and another boy at Hillerska doesn’t go where it should. What made the first season of Young Royals so great was how it drove home that queer love was not something to shy away from. This time around, the biggest happy romances are straight ones.
Here’s hoping that, if the series gets picked up for a third season, the queer romances are put back in the spotlight and given opportunities to thrive. Wilhelm and Simon deserved better, and while they surely also merit a chance to find prospects in others, even those prospects didn’t get enough time. This show may be about a group of young royals, but in spending so much energy on the concepts of tradition and duty, it’s lost the buzz that made it notable in the first place. It’s really a good thing that the soundtrack slaps so hard. Next time, give us both queer stories and a bopping tracklist and we’ll be happy.
Young Royals season two premieres November 1 on Netflix.