Paolo Sorrentino was already held in high esteem when his masterpiece The Great Beauty came out in 2013 but that threw him into the stratosphere of International filmmakers. However every single thing he has done since has been a crushing disappointment first with the navel gazing Youth to now his big budget long-form television series The Young Pope. It’s often been said sometimes films seem better in a foreign language and his two recent projects are in English so maybe there is some truth to that.
Jude Law plays Pope Pius XIII (born Lenny Belardo) who is the first American Pope and of course the youngest ever. He shacks the Vatican up with dismantling the more liberally oriented message of his predecessor and go back to the arch-conservatism of old. He also refuses to be seen in public in any form and refuses to be merchandised by the Catholic Church. It’s all a power struggle between the Vatican and the newly elected pope and of course the Pope has to deal with the abuse of children within the Catholic Church.
Sorrentino hired Tony Grisoni to collaborate on the telescript and it seems like there was either miscommunication or a falling out because it’s extremely muddled. The first few episodes are really great and have some great surreal moments, the opening of the first episode is absolutely genius. However as the series goes on all these subplots get more and more of the focus and really subtracts from the interesting enough story of this new pope. The surrealism also gets increasingly downplayed, the surrealism probably came from Grisoni who is one of Terry Gilliam’s go to collaborators after all.
However the series works for about a little over half the time which is mostly down to Jude Law’s performance. Law is of course a great actor even though he has the one American accent he does but most British actors do like his contemporary Ewan McGregor. The cast is full of some great veterans like the always wonderful Diane Keaton in a darker role than usual and James Cromwell alongside many European actors as well. It also has an interesting score of whiny indie music, mainstream pop and songs from legendary Post-Punk band The Sound and indie popsters Belle & Sebastian.
It starts falling apart when a subplot about a paedophile in New York takes over. It’s an admiral attempt at dealing with a serious issue within the church but it takes over the narrative and Law’s Pius XIII gets sidelined for a bit. It’s overall a notable attempt at a TV series by Sorrentino but it’s better aspects get sidelined by its many subplots which is the problem with so much long-form television.
It does seem people are finally waking up to the fact film will always better than TV no matter what some critics may claim. Sorrentino should probably stick to film projects in the Italian language after this but it has been renewed for a second season so seems unlikely. The Blu-Ray release is completely barebones with no specials features at all.