Posts Tagged ‘the young pope’
When the game of thrones comes to an end? That’s the unspoken question at the heart of Sean & Stefan’s discussion of HBO’s two most high-profile drama debuts of the past year, Paolo Sorrentino’s The Young Pope and Jonathan Nolan & Lisa Joy’s Westworld. These two prestige-TV series present two very different paths for the future of the New Golden Age of TV, and offer many points of comparison with current standard-bearer Game of Thrones itself. Go in-depth on their strengths and weaknesses—and trust us, one is much stronger than the other—in one of our biggest and, dare we say it, best episodes yet!
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A pat conversion of Pius XIII the dashing fundamentalist dictator into Pope Lenny the Kinder Gentler Catholic would be a lie; it would say, falsely, that only art about people who reflect our values can itself reflect our values, or that only art about empathetic people can have an empathetic message. Better to grapple with contradictions and flaws, with the hard-to-swallow and the tough-to-bear….The Pope is still the same smug bastard he started as. He could well be crazy. But in his presence, characters feel God’s presence. Couldn’t he be a madman and a mystic, a sociopath and a saint all rolled into one?
As the Holy Father himself puts it, “Goodness, unless it’s combined with imagination, runs the risk of being mere exhibitionism.” The Young Pope trusts our imagination – our ability to handle its narrative leaps, cinematic risks and characters with views far different from our own – and has faith that we’ll see the goodness all the clearer for it. That’s where its greatness lies.
The Young Pope is/was a masterpiece. I reviewed its season finale for Rolling Stone. The aspect of the show discussed above is very important to me.
Mincing words is the last thing Pope Pius XIII would want us to do here, so we’ll say it plain: Tonight’s episode of The Young Pope is absolutely magnificent. It juggles the climaxes of two major storylines, either of which could command an entire hour on their own, as effortlessly as the Holy Father juggles oranges. Whether it’s Cardinal Gutierrez trying to bring down the abusive Archbishop Kurtwell or Pius making peace with the dying Cardinal Spencer, every image feels deeply considered. Every character is full and fleshed out. Not a moment is wasted. Not an emotional punch is pulled.
It was the best of Popes, it was the worst of Popes. Tonight’s episode contained both individual shots and lengthy segments that are as successful as anything the HBO show has put on screen so far – but it’s also the first installment of the series that feels like a substantial failure. It’s oddly appropriate: The storyline, in which Pope Pius XIII exits his comfort zone by leaves the cozy confines of his papal palaces and travels abroad to meet his public, is the one in which co-writer/director Paolo Sorrentino wanders off course himself.
“Betrayest thou the Son of Man with a kiss?” This was the incredulous question Jesus posed to Judas in the garden of Gesthemane, the night His follower-slash-frenemy ratted him out with a telltale smooch. After tonight’s episode of The Young Pope, we’ve got a feeling Pope Pius XIII knows how the Good Lord felt. No, Sister Mary didn’t lock lips with her former ward – even for a show this Oedipally fixated, that would be a bridge too far. But her desperate attempt to end his disastrous reign was no less intimate.
Using a piece of the tobacco pipe that the elder deadbeat Belardo left with his son Lenny on the day the boy was deserted at her orphanage, the nun hired actors to impersonate the Holy Father’s mom and pop. Her hope was that the fulfillment of his lifelong dream of reuniting with his parents would leave him so shaken that he could be bamboozled by his cardinals into resigning his office. O she of little faith! As we learn throughout the hour, Lenny was already well on his way to arriving at that decision all on his own.
Send cardinals, nuns, and money – the shit has hit the fan.
Nine months after Pope Pius XIII announced his intention to rule the Catholic Church with an iron fist (wearing a red velvet glove covered in gold rings, natch), the effects of his fundamentalist fervor are being felt far and wide. August officials are dropping dead in the cafeteria. Renegade mystics are disappearing. Church pews are quite literally collapsing. Police are investigating and the priesthood is being purged. Jimmy crack corn, and the Young Pope doesn’t care.
…the high point is the address to the College of Cardinals, an act of absolutely unsurpassed arrogance and imperial menace. To the visible and audible shock of the assembly, the Pope is carried into the Sistine Chapel on a throne, carried on the shoulders of a dozen priests. Fan-bearers flank him like an actual Roman emperor. His costumery is so ornate and massive that he’s all but immobile in it, his head pivoting and malevolent eyes twinkling amid the mountain of cloth and gold like a character out of Alice in Wonderland.
His speech is a dictatorial masterpiece: an outright call to his brother cardinals to purge the Church of all but its most fanatical followers, to act as aloof and above the unfaithful masses as God Himself. It’s one of the greatest speeches in TV history, placed at the apex of the best television episode of the year. And it ends with a display of outright dominance: Pius extends his foot, and one by one, his mentor Cardinal Spencer, his best friend Cardinal Dussolier, and his defeated nemesis Cardinal Voiello come forward to kiss it. He is the Young Pope. Bow down.
I reviewed Sunday’s The Young Pope, the best episode of television I’ve seen in months, for Rolling Stone. I literally cried tears of joy and delight watching this thing.
It’s not TV. It’s The Young Pope.
We hope HBO will pardon our repurposing of their famous catchphrase for the sake of celebrating what creator Paolo Sorrentino, star Jude Law and everyone else involved in this extraordinary pulp-prestige TV project have wrought. But hey, if the slogan fits, wear it. Flip the channels or scroll through the streaming services all you want, but you won’t find anything like this. Its combination of tightly controlled tone with beautifully bizarre flights of fancy and absolutely colossal camp stands alone. It’s Hannibal for lapsed Catholics.
I reviewed last night’s episode of The Young Pope for Rolling Stone. It was excellent as always. But let me tell you this: Nothing can prepare you for next Sunday’s episode. I literally wept tears of joy.
Next up is the opening credit sequence that launched a thousand fan tumblrs. As an instrumental version of “All Along the Watchtower” plays, Pius walks in slow motion past a series of famous religious paintings as a comet soars through the sky in each of them, tracing his progress. (This is a symbol dating back to one of the Medici popes, Clement VII, and is said to indicate either great good or great misfortune.) With a shit-eating grin on his face and the credits emblazoned in flickering neon blue on the wall behind him, he eventually turns directly to the viewer … and winks. Nothing is sacred here, not even the fourth wall. At the end of his stroll, he passes a life-sized statue of beloved Pope John Paul II, which is then promptly bowled over by the now-extinguished comet. (This is itself a sculpture called “La Nona Ora (The Night Hour)” by artist Maurizio Cattelan.) Eat meteor, JPII!
That’s the beauty of The Young Pope: Like all truly great television shows, it trusts its audience enough to risk alienating us. What will people make of this episode’s most bizarre scene, in which Pius supernaturally soothes a savage … kangaroo? It’s so truly, madly, deeply odd, and showrunner Paolo Sorrentino has no interest in softening the blow. You make your peace with an exquisitely campy series about a chain-smoking homophobic tyrant who looks to the band behind “Get Lucky” and “One More Time” for stylistic inspiration; who was raised by a nun who thinks he’s a saint but wears a t-shirt reading “I’m a Virgin, but This Is an Old Shirt” to bed; and who can calm rogue Australian wildlife like, as Voiello puts it in his thick Italian accent, “Saint Francis of-a Sydney.” Or you don’t. If the meme-able moments make it all sound silly, well, remember when an O.J. Simpson show from the creator of Glee starring John Travolta, David Schwimmer, and Cuba Gooding Jr. sounded silly, too? We rest our case.
“We have forgotten to masturbate!”
So proclaims Pope Pius XIII to the adoring throngs gathered in St. Peter’s Square to hear the first homily of his papacy. Yet when it comes to the jaw-dropping moments in the premiere episode of The Young Pope, the Holy Father’s ode to onanism barely even makes the Top 10.
Italian writer-director Paolo Sorrentino kicks off his highly anticipated series with the surreal dream-image of the new pope emerging from a literal mountain of dead and dying babies. He follows it up with not one but two shots of the pontiff’s bare ass before we’re five minutes in. The smug religious leader then slo-mo struts through a teeming crowd of priests, nuns and cardinals whose multi-colored garb looks might like something out of Game of Thrones‘ – if they weren’t, you know, what Catholic clergy really wear. He has a split-second flashback to seeing a topless woman in his youth. He looks up and hey, there’s a water cooler lit like it’s a visitor from God. His adoring underlings form stunning tableaux in shot after shot, like something out of R.E.M.’s “Losing My Religion” video. He glides to the balcony to give his speech as if attached to the camera, like Harvey Keitel when he gets loaded in Mean Streets. A graphic overlay of black bars slowly spread across the screen, emblazoned with the series’ title. His lunatic grin is the only thing that’s visible.
Pius XIII takes the proverbial stage to the screams of thousands, arms outstretched like a rock star, grinning and gesticulating like his name was Monsignor Mussolini. Rain clouds are parted with a wave of his hands, and out comes the sun. Then, with a gorgeously old-fashioned zoom-in and drum buildup, he drops that masturbation line, the first explosion in a carpet-bombing campaign of unorthodoxy: Why not have extramarital sex, gay marriage, nuns saying mass? In reaction, shocked prelates collapse backwards in unison like they’re in the final panel of a gag cartoon. Panicked priests run through the Vatican halls, screaming for help. Only the intervention of his second-in-command, summarily firing him from the papacy, tips the show’s hand that this was just a dream.
But when this young Pope, a 47-year-old American named Lenny Belardo and played by Jude Law, wakes up from his nightmare, it doesn’t feel like a cop-out. On the contrary, the twist works like a charm, because everything here – from the writing to the cinematography, the score to the performances – is honest-to-God dreamy. The show does the same thing its title character is supposed to do as the leader of the Catholic Church: It provides a breath of madcap fresh air in a dreary, homogeneous TV season.