royal order

So, You Want to Start Watching The Crown

Photo: Des Willie/Netflix

The fourth season of The Crown is the first one to cover some of the most familiar stories about the royal family. It’s the first foray into Charles and Diana, it’s the first time the series gets into modern politics and the Thatcher area, and it’s also the first time that its central figure, Queen Elizabeth, resembles something closer to the monarch we know today. It’s also a great season of TV, with more energy and momentum than the show has had in previous years. It’s fun and gossipy, in its own deeply serious, painstakingly psychoanalytical kind of way.

So, let’s say you’ve never seen the show and are now interested in jumping in with season four. Will that work? Do you need to watch the beginning to know what’s going on? Can you just skip straight to the juicy parts?

Short answer: Sure, knock yourself out!

The longer answer is that there are a couple things that help make it totally fine to jump into The Crown starting with season four. The most obvious is the recency and familiarity of its story — by the time we get to season four, The Crown is covering Margaret Thatcher and Princess Diana. It’s much easier to jump on the bandwagon if you already sort of know at least some of the story, and the odds are good most viewers will know at least a little of the Charles and Diana saga. Plus, even if you’re not an expert on the Thatcher era, she and Diana are both new figures within the world of the show, and so The Crown introduces them to the royal family and viewers at the same time. The season is structured in a way that makes it very friendly for newcomers.

One other element of The Crown that makes it easier to just hop into season four is that it’s an extremely episodic series. It tells a developing story about these characters, sure, but each hour is pretty self-contained. That episodic backbone means that each hour of The Crown is designed to give you a full, complete little story arc. Even if you lack a lot of the historical context, that episodic feature makes it an easy show to absorb. It’s not unlike jumping into the middle of a sitcom you’ve never seen. In the long spectrum of “how easy is it to understand one random episode in the middle of this show,” The Crown falls closer to the side of a sitcom than it does to, say, Riverdale or The Real Housewives.

All that said, there are some things you miss by not starting at the beginning. The Crown may be telling its story in little self-contained pieces, but it’s also sketching a long history of dysfunction in this very weird family. As much as anything else, The Crown is a show about familial trauma inherited across many generations, and it’s been putting those pieces in place for years. There’s a scene in the first episode where Charles implies that he’s grown up without a paternal role model, and Philip (his father) spits at him that he has no idea what Charles is talking about — he has a living father, standing right in front of him. It’s the kind of scene that will likely still make sense if this is your first introduction to these characters, but it’s not going to hit the same way if you haven’t followed The Crown’s long exploration of how the royal family’s parent-child relationships are, uh, completely fucked up.

Still, if you’re comfortable picking up a show in the middle and you feel the urge with The Crown, this is a case where I recommend just diving in. You’ll feel Zeitgeisty, you’ll get to appreciate all the ’80s fashions, and if you fall in love, you can easily go back and start from the beginning without feeling like you’re being spoiled about the end. Because we’re all spoiled about the end! Plus, you’ll want to watch this season of The Crown now so you can appreciate the glory of the Queen Mum’s pre-drink cheers: “Tippity toppity, down with the Nazis!”