Hot off the heels of the sci-fi hit “Westworld,” HBO premiered its latest big-budget series, “The Young Pope,” on Jan. 15.
While the series’ eccentric atmosphere may stop it from becoming the network’s next crowd-pleaser, “The Young Pope” has enough intrigue to become the newest and potentially weirdest entry into prestige television.
The new series from Oscar-winning filmmaker Paolo Sorrentino stars Jude Law as Lenny Belardo, a 47-year-old former archbishop from New York who is elected pope. Taking the name Pius XIII, Belardo navigates Vatican City politics while trying to establish his own unique and modern touch on the papacy, much to the dismay of Catholic traditionalists. The series also features Diane Keaton as Sister Mary, a nun who raised Belardo and later enters his inner circle.
Both lead actors give strong performances, though they are far from subtle. Law especially errs on the overdramatic side, though his penchant for the theatrical suits his larger-than-life character. Even during some of the show’s cornier moments, Law’s performance as the roguish pope never ceases to be entertaining.
Like its performances, “The Young Pope” tends to be exaggerated and flamboyant, in both its dramatic and comedic aspects. While certain scenes are elevated because of its garishness, the transition between comedic and dramatic moments is jarring. The opening scene, in particular, shows an awkwardness as it rapidly shifts from tense drama into farcical satire. And while much of the music is quite beautiful, there are moments where it becomes overbearing and overshadows the characters.
Still, much of the show’s grandiosity is fitting, considering the extravagance of Vatican City and its many picturesque locations. This is the one area where Sorrentino truly shines. From the costumes to the cathedrals, “The Young Pope” is nothing short of stunning. At the very least, the series is premium eye candy.
In addition to its striking visuals, the series boasts a tense atmosphere of political scheming that fans of “House of Cards” or “The Borgias” will eat up. The show veers into the abstract and artistic with its surreal dream sequences and flashbacks. Only time will tell if “The Young Pope” can solidify or build upon this odd genre coupling.