The first half of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s six-episode programme doesn’t appear to have been the unadulterated success Prince Harry, Meghan and Netflix were likely hoping for. A number of reviews described the programme as one-sided, with Noor Noman writing for MCNBC: “Despite it being billed as the unvarnished truth, so far the series is, predictably, beautiful propaganda with high production value.
“The difference between what the documentary says it is and what it actually is gets at the heart of what this documentary does effectively: plays with the power dynamics between the observer and the observed.
“This subversion, however, isn’t always executed with self-awareness. How can any story told from a place of pain and persecution be the unvarnished truth? I do not mean to deny their reality but instead to suggest this one-sided story is one of many truths.”
While the docu-series is described as “at times” a compelling watch, its shortcoming is “a seeming lack of self-awareness”, the reviewer wrote.
Vanessa Friedman wrote in The New York Times – which in September 2020 was the first to announce the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s partnership with Netflix – the Duke and Duchess of Sussex haven’t yet provided “confessional or political” revelations in their programme.
Rather, they have added the visual part to claims already made in the past.
She wrote: “They tell the soft-focus tale Harry and Meghan want to get out, perhaps even more than they want to get out their opinions about the role of monarchy in the modern world.
“A tale deliberately crafted for a generation that lives online, and shaped by a platform where the colours of life itself can be filtered according to taste, framed and controlled. They speak the language of influence, for the era of influencers.”
The commentator added the actual documentary is “awfully long and sometimes tiresome and not everyone will want to sit through the various retreads”.
NBC’s Diana Pearl wrote the docu-series feels “underwhelming” in comparison to the riveting Oprah Winfrey interview recorded with the Sussexes in early 2021.
She added Harry and Meghan are facing the challenge to give people a reason to “stay interested” in them even without an attachment to the institution of monarchy.
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She wrote: “Pulling back the curtain on the inner workings of the monarchy can only take them so far, and already, they seem to be running out of new stories to tell about that period.
“This is understandable: They’ve been out of the royal family for almost double the amount of time that Meghan spent within it.”
Finally, Variety – which published a flattering interview of the Duchess in October – criticised the documentary for letting experts rather than Meghan and Harry voice certain statements and criticism – including those against the Commonwealth.
Reviewer Daniel D’Addario, quoting a sentence told by Meghan during the programme, wrote: “The title of the series is ‘Harry & Meghan’: Doesn’t it make more sense to hear this story from them?”
The commentator also wrote: “As part of their Netflix deal, Harry and Meghan have been seemingly forced into restaging the story of their courtship, wedding, and family feuds past the point that they, or anyone but diehard fans or haters, can still care.
“What they want to do now that they’ve overcome adversity may well lie ahead in the next batch of episodes, but speaking in their own voice about issues other than their personal experience would have represented a good start.”
The US audience also didn’t seem to embrace the Duke and Duchess’s attempt to tell their story in their own words.
Samba TV, which measures TV viewership, said nearly one million households in the States tuned in to watch the first three episodes of the Netflix documentary on the first day of its release.
More than 335 million people live in the US. While Netflix doesn’t break down the number of its US subscribers anymore, Insider Intelligence said earlier this year it expected the streaming platform to count 178.5 million viewers in the States.
In comparison, Harry & Meghan performed much better in the UK – which counts some 63 million people -, with 786,000 households tuning in to watch the programme on December 8.