Jan 16, 2017

Channel Surfing: The Young Pope - "Episode 1.1"

Jude Law
Welcome to a new column called Channel Surfing, in which I sporadically look at current TV shows and talk about them. These are not ones that I care to write weekly recaps for and are instead reflections either on the episode, the series, or particular moments. This will hopefully help to share personal opinions as well as discover entertainment on the outer pantheon that I feel is well worth checking out, or in some cases, shows that are weird enough to talk about, but should never be seen.
For many, 2016 may have been a period of grappling with faith - whether in literal or more secular terms. It is why the premiere of HBO's latest miniseries The Young Pope seems more timely than its novelty title would suggest. Created and written by the Oscar-winning director of The Great Beauty (Paolo Sorrentino), the show is essentially a dramatic satire of a young and reluctant pope whose first moments on screen feature him crawling from underneath a mountain of babies to give a speech full of blasphemous heresy. He delights in his comments, only to realize that they're dreams. However, as the leader of one of the world's dominant religions, there's now concern as to whether he will act upon them. His bratty behavior doesn't take long to show up in his real life. He isn't humble even in his drink order, desiring nothing other than his preferred Cherry Coke Zero. 
The show is difficult to pin at first. Not only is the first images difficult to understand in general, but the show quickly takes on a mystical atmosphere that seems trenchant in delusions of grandeur. Jude Law's Lenny Belardo is a confident but reluctant man, unsure as to whether he should actually take on the job given to him. One could become immediately concerned as to whether he was actually passionate in the first place. The first episode doesn't say much to his backstory other than that he has close ties to a nun named Sister Mary (Diane Keaton), and that a small portion of the church is already trying to sabotage his recent rise to power. The stakes are high, even if it's unclear how Pope Lenny's fall will happen - or if there will be some other strange occurrence that changes his trajectory.
Is the show a comedy? Kind of. Sorrentino isn't known specifically for his comedic chops, though he puts a lot of dry and blunt humor throughout his scenes. This comes through in a fantastic performance by Law, who manages to play everything deadpan and with sincerity that is likely to confuse anyone not on the show's wavelength. The Young Pope is at times a blasphemous show and paints his holiness in a less than favorable light. However, it does appear to be taking a long and interesting road, possibly towards giving him comeuppance of some sorts. Even then, the challenging tone only makes the show more alluring and confusing, much like its protagonist.
The one advantage for The Young Pope is that it has been announced as a limited run. If there was any novelty that would wear off, it won't have time to. Instead, it will have to explore a confusing character, and one of the most perplexing of 2017 so far. Will Pope Lenny ruin the church or manage to repent and become a great person? There's so many things at stake that may be challenging for people of deeper faith, but will serve as interesting drama for those willing to let the show evolve at its own pace. Maybe it will be a novelty that doesn't last. Maybe it will have profound commentaries buried underneath the satire. Who knows. Sorrentino likely has something provocative to say in the coming weeks. We'll just have to wait and see. 

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