There is a single moment at the end of the first episode of The Young Pope that perfectly encapsulates the mood of the show. When asked what God’s house looks like, Pope Pius XIII (Jude Law) remarks, “half of a duplex, with a private swimming pool.”
HBO’s new show, The Young Pope, is an artistically tasteful but inherently deceptive drama. It doesn’t take itself seriously (in a good way) and its characters are less representative and more caricatures of the Catholic Church’s highest officials. The Pope (Lenny Belardo) is the power-hungry, game-playing, Cherry-Coke-Zero-drinking, insecure new pope who has set out to redefine the Catholic Church and return it to its conservative ways. He is accompanied by his surrogate mother, Sister Mary (Diane Keaton), who acts as Lenny’s personal secretary, puppet, and watchdog, who also plays basketball and rocks a night shirt that reads, “I’m a virgin but this is an old shirt”. On the other side, there’s Cardinal Voiello (Silvio Orlando), the Vatican’s Secretary of State, who is a reluctant man with a giant mole on his face and often fantasizes about a “curvy” woman-shaped statue in the Pope’s office. These three, along with numerous other farcical characters, represent a show that feels more like Monty Python than a serious political drama.
It might seem like I’m down on this new show, trashing it for its lack of authenticity; I mean the title itself has sparked a flurry of memes throughout the social media world. But in fact, it was extremely refreshing and thought-provoking. Through the first two episodes, I found myself surprised by how enthralling the show is. Whether it’s the masterfully written dialogue, the beautifully done camera angles, or the subtle humor, the show is nothing short of captivating. Written and directed by Italian Paolo Sorrentino, The Young Pope, is a perfect hybrid of House of Cards, Veep, and any religion-themed horror movie.
In all honesty, though, it’s difficult to know what’s ahead for the rest of the series. The first two episodes are mostly spent establishing Lenny as the new Pope and all the quirks that come with him. He is a little know American cardinal who was elected Pope because no one could agree on a better replacement. Some are suspicious of the appointment like Lenny’s former mentor, Cardinal Spencer (James Cromwell). He goes as far as to confront Lenny about it and even attempts suicide because he was overlooked for the position. Others, like Voiello, are looking into Lenny’s past for anything that can be used against him. We can obviously expect people to challenge the new (and young) Pope’s authority, but the means to do so remain a mystery.
Perhaps the biggest mystery, however, is what Lenny plans to do as Pope Pius XIII. He presents a very conservative and authoritative front but on the other hand, the show opens with a dream of his where he is preaching to the people about accepting abortions, contraceptives, and those who masturbate (see what I mean about the lampooning?!). He was originally thought to be a puppet for Voiello, but through the first two episodes, it looks like Lenny is going to be a lot harder to influence and control than originally thought. If there is anything to complain about it would be how little we know through two episodes. We can speculate all we want but right now we know very little and even the direction isn’t clear. I’m all for character building but there really aren’t that many characters (or caricatures) to devote most the first two episodes too.
In general, though, The Young Pope has started very strong and it looks like we are in the early stages of an amazing show. Paolo Sorrentino has created a show that is visually some of the best work I have seen. The costumes, camera angles, and visual effects add so much depth and make it a pleasure to watch. It will be interesting to see how the characters develop and how their motivations come out, but right now I’m just enjoying the ride.