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4 ways 'Empresses in the Palace' will sate your 'Downton Abbey' ache

It’s nearly the weekend, which means it’s nearly #NeftlixandChill time. Whether you chill by yourself or with someone, you’ll need to drop all of your Netflix plans—like, forget catching up on whatever it is that’s in your queue—and get into Empresses in the Palace immediately. It’ll change your life.

I found this on a whim while searching blindly on Netflix for something to ease my boredom one Saturday night, and I wasn’t disappointed in the least. There are some folks out there still jonesing over the lack of Downton Abbey. Empresses in the Palace is the perfect project to help you get out of your costume-drama slump.

So what is Empresses in the Palace? It’s a Chinese drama starring Li Sun as Zhen Huan, who recounts her story of her rise to power through the Imperial Harem to eventually become the next Empress Dowager of the Qing Dynasty (don’t worry; it’s not a spoiler since this plot point is mentioned in the very first episode). It also stars Jianbin Chen as the Yongzheng Emperor, who first seems like a kindly, reasonable man. I won’t say anything other than that, except to say that he’s the Emperor; he’s had to do some awful things, and he’s going to continue to do awful things because he’s the man with the ultimate power.

Ada Choi plays the Empress, who also runs the harem; Jiang Xin is Consort Hua (the head concubine); Lan Xi and Tao Xinran are Huan’s best friend and fellow consorts Shen Mei-zhuang and An Ling-rong; and Dong-xue Li plays Yunli, the Emperor’s brother and a wrinkle in the relationship between the Emperor and Huan.

Maybe you’re thinking, “This is ancient China! How will this compare to Downton Abbey? They’re nothing alike!” Well, let’s get into the reasons why they are alike. Or, dare I say, maybe it’s better than Downton Abbey?

4) Extravagant costumes
Downton Abbey is known for its costuming, but if you want to talk about extravagance, just take a look at the costumes in Empresses in the Palace. The brocades and the detailing used in these costumes are exquisite, and showcase the grandiose life of a palace concubine. But even though the Downton Abbey costumes do tell a story and relay character development, the costumes of Empresses in the Palace tell a bit of a deeper story: that even though the women in the harem are considered royalty and blessed beyond measure, these women are also trapped in their own gilded prisons. They might look nice, but they are all vying for each other’s power and prestige, with their only security being securing the Emperor’s favor. The coveted title of Empress is what everyone’s gunning for, but even the Empress herself isn’t exempt from fearing the loss of the Emperor’s grace.

3) Scandal and intrigue
Downton Abbey didn’t become a hit just because of the costumes. The show had tons of drama, from the whole Pamuk incident (is Pamuk’s body still in that closet?), to Thomas getting outed, to Lady Sybil marrying Tom against her father’s wishes, to poor Sybil and poor Matthew’s sudden deaths. Empresses in the Palace has that drama in spades. I don’t want to spoil anything, but with so many women in the harem vying for the title of Empress and the power to partially rule the country, you know there are going to be tons of deaths, a love affair, and a lot of diabolical schemes. Every time an episode ends (generally on a cliffhanger), you’ve already started to click play on the next episode. Don’t be surprised if you’re up at 3 a.m., still watching.

2) Revenge
If there’s something I can say about Downton Abbey, there wasn’t a lot of revenge-getting on that show, even though there were quite a few folks who could have gotten revenge on ice-cold Lady Mary. However, Empresses in the Palace takes its drama to the ultimate soap-opera level, with intricate plots of revenge put into action. You have to be cutthroat and sharp to survive in the palace harem, and these women are constantly putting each other to the test. Again, I can’t say what happens in order to keep from spoiling things, but just remember as you watch that any move a concubine makes in this show is something to keep in the back of your mind.

1) Well-rounded characters
Another critique I could make for Downton Abbey is that sometimes, the characters didn’t come to the conclusions that the storyline would lead you to believe. But in Empresses in the Palace, the women always have their reasons for what they do. Whether the woman is the “villain” or the “heroine” of the story, you come to understand why she acts the way she acts, and how much of her calculating mindset stems from anger and fear. The most heartbreaking points in the show are when you see a high-ranking concubine fall from grace. You wish you could just reach through the screen and hug her. But what’s fascinating is how no one is cookie-cutter. Everyone has her moment to show her bad side.

In short, you’ve got to see Empresses in the Palace. Will you take a look? Give your opinions below!

Season one of Empresses in the Palace is available on Netflix.

TV Families | EW.com
Mark Harris
February 23, 1990 AT 05:00 AM EST

The Bradys are back, with a passel of 90’s hassles. Do they represent the typical American Family? Did they ever? Who does? Stare and compare!

Kind Of Family
TheBradyBunch 1969-74: Blended
The Bradys 1990-: Enormous
Married…With Children 1987-: Postnuclear
Thirtysomething 1987-: Extended
The Flintstones 1960-66: Modern Stone Age

Family Pet
The Brady Bunch: Tiger
The Bradys: Alice
Married…With Children: Buck
Thirtysomething: Grendel
The Flintstones: Dino

Typical Guest Star
The Brady Bunch: Davey Jones
The Bradys: There’s no room
Married…With Children: Sam Kinison
Thirtysomething: Carly Simon
The Flintstones: Ann Margrock

Expression Of Joy
The Brady Bunch: Groovy!
The Bradys: Ritual hugging
Married…With Children: ”Oh, great.”
Thirtysomething: ”Of course I’m happy for you. Really. But what about me? Why does it always have to be about you?
The Flintstones: ”Yabba-dabba doo

Expression Of Rage

The Brady Bunch: ”Hmmm…”
The Bradys: ”If you back away from something you really want, then you’re a quitter!” (the angriest any Brady has ever been)
Married…With Children: ”Aaagh, God, take me from this miserable life!”
Thirtysomething: ”I’m not angry, OK?”
The Flintstones: ”Willllmaaaa!”

Typical Problem
The Brady Bunch: Marcia and her rival both want to be the prom queen.
The Bradys: Bobby gets paralyzed.
Married…With Children: Al doesn’t buy his family Christmas presents.
Thirtysomething: Nancy gets cancer.
The Flintstones: Fred and Barney are staying out too late.

Typical Solution
The Brady Bunch: The prom committee decides to have two queens.
The Bradys: Bobby gets married.
Married…With Children: They hate him.
Thirtysomething: If only we knew…
The Flintstones: Wilma and Betty decide to follow them.

House Style
The Brady Bunch: Conservative but mod, circa ’69
The Bradys: Conservative but mod, circa ’90
Married…With Children: Roach motel
Thirtysomething: Enviable
The Flintstones: Suburban cave

Clothing Style
The Brady Bunch: Early Osmonds
The Bradys: Made in the USA
Married…With Children: Flammable fabrics
Thirtysomething: Eclectic earth tones; nice ties
The Flintstones: One-piece

Most Annoying Character
The Brady Bunch: Alice’s cousin Emma, the substitute housekeeper (too strict)
The Bradys: Marcia’s husband, Wally (chronically unemployable)
Married…With Children: Steve (supercilious)
Thirtysomething: Ellyn (goes through Hope’s drawers, babbles, changes hairstyle every other week, generally mistreats her friends)
The Flintstones: Mr. Slate (bossy)

Attitude Toward Sex
The Brady Bunch: Never heard of it
The Bradys: Omigod — even Cindy does it!
Married…With Children: Peg: Yes. Al: No.
Thirtysomething: They didn’t get all those kids by accident.
The Flintstones: Prehistoric

How Spouses Fight
The Brady Bunch: They don’t.
The Bradys: Infrequently, but it happens
Married…With Children: Tooth and nail
Thirtysomething: They stop talking
The Flintstones: Fred and Barney go bowling while Wilma and Betty max out their charge cards.

How Kids Get Into Trouble
The Brady Bunch: Greg takes a puff of a cigarette.
The Bradys: Carol’s grandson steals her business cards and sticks them in the spokes of Bobby’s wheelchair.
Married…With Children: By committing felonies
Thirtysomething: Ethan plays with a forbidden toy rocket.
The Flintstones: They don’t.

How They’re Punished

The Brady Bunch: ”It’s not what you did, honey — it’s that you couldn’t come to us.”
The Bradys ”Next time, ask.”
Married…With Children: By the authorities
Thirtysomething: It blows up in his face.
The Flintstones: They’re not.

What Family Does For Fun
The Brady Bunch: Takes special three-part vacations to Hawaii and the Grand Canyon
The Bradys: Has flashbacks
Married…With Children: Exchanges insults
Thirtysomething: Talks
The Flintstones: Attends showings of The Monster at the Bedrock Drive-In

Unsolved Mysteries
The Brady Bunch: How exactly did Carol’s first husband and Mike’s first wife die?
The Bradys: What’s with Marcia’s new face and Bobby’s blonde hair
Married…With Children: What kind of hair spray does Peg use?
Thirtysomething: Why did Nancy take Elliot back? What do Gary and Susanna see in each other?
The Flintstones: How does Barney’s shirt stay on if he has no shoulders? Where do Fred and Wilma plug in their TV?

Worst Behavior
The Brady Bunch: The Brady children once made Alice feel under-appreciated.

The Bradys: Marcia’s son Mickey watches Bobby’s car-crash tape for fun.
Married…With Children: The Bundy’s kill their neighbor’s dog.
Thirtysomething: Elliot has an affair and talks about it.
The Flintstones: Characters don’t wear under-clothes.

Best Reason To Watch
The Brady Bunch: This is what life should be.
The Bradys: They’re all grown-ups now!
Married…With Children: Terry Rakolta hates it.
Thirtysomething (Tie) This is your life. This isn’t your life.
The Flintstones: This is what life might have been.

Best Reason Not To Watch
The Brady Bunch: Blurred vision from rerun overdoses.
The Bradys: You’re all grown-ups now.
Married…With Children: She has a point.
Thirtysomething: After a while, you think it’s real.
The Flintstones: The Simpsons

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