TV Recap: The Young Pope - Episode One
“There a new pope now.”
While The Young Pope premiered in Italy back in October of 2016, there has been little buzz surrounding the new HBO-Sky-Canal+ production here in America, until about a week ago when the internet gates burst and fresh hot Young Pope memes were unleashed (this one's my favorite). It’s easy to understand the obsession; The Young Pope—just looking at the name alone, it sounds ridiculous. You can imagine a room of executives pulling random words from a hat and coming up with The Young Pope, The Boss Baby, and Rock Dog all in one sitting (all real properties, by the way).
Now that the show has premiered on HBO, it’s time to answer the most important questions. Does it rise above its laughable title and premise? Does it deliver on what some were envisioning—a skating, smoking, and cool as hell pope? Also, how young is this young pope?
First off, yes, The Young Pope manages to rise above its premise. Its first episode sets the stage for a more politically charged affair than what some would have expected. Jude Law plays the newly elected Pope Pius XIII, born Lenny Belardo (yes, Lenny). He wants to shake up the Catholic Church with some radical ideas—and yes, he smokes. At 47-years-old, Lenny, as the pope, has the stature and age to change the way one-fifth of the world’s population worship the Lord for decades, maybe even generations to come. The only thing standing in his way is the Vatican City political machine.
The first episode begins with a dream sequence of Lenny delivering a fiery speech, announcing to an immense crowd at the Vatican City, sweeping changes to the Church—a pro stance on masturbation, abortion, and gay marriage, just to name a few. Lenny proclaims, “There is only one road that leads to happiness, and that road is freedom.” He says those words right before waking up, where he's then cast into a position that has been primed to be picked away of any real power. The Camerlengo and Cardinal Secretary of State, Cardinal Angelo Voiello (Silvio Orlando), plots to work the new pope as a puppet, but, of course, Lenny is no push over.
The Young Pope feels like an above standard political drama, similar to House of Cards. And like Netflix's original drama, The Young Pope is visually pleasing, which is what happens when you give the reigns to a feature film director. Created, co-written and directed by Paolo Sorrentino (Youth, The Great Beauty), the show has a flair for the lavish, in imagery and performance.
The first episode mostly has Lenny plotting and dealing his way through Vatican City. He brings allies to his side, one of them being a nun, Sister Mary (Diane Keation), who raised Lenny when he was orphaned as a child. He first drastic move is appointing Sister Mary as his special assistant, something that Voiello says isn’t traditional. Lenny says, “You’re too tied to the past.” His end game is change and at this point it feels like he will let nothing stand in his way. Like Frank Underwood from House of Cards, we don’t know how far he’s willing to go to win.
In the final moments of the first episode, both Lenny and Voiello seek information on each other for their political gain. Voiello begins an investigation to uncover any secret sins Lenny may be hiding. Meanwhile, Lenny goes to the Vatican City’s confessor, seeking dirt on cardinals to use later.
In all, the first episode sets the pieces well for the rest of the season. There’s a backstory to Lenny we’ll soon learn, as we’ve seen a few flashback moments to his childhood. Also, a character briefly shown but not yet fully introduced, Cardinal Michael Spencer (James Cromwell), looks to have a vendetta against Lenny that must come into play soon enough. And if you needed another reason to keep watching, Lenny makes a confession in the final seconds of the show that proves The Young Pope is quite a salacious drama, one on the verge of trashy but immensely appetizing.