Before you read this review, before you watch the trailer or read anything about The Young Pope, please go and download the original soundtrack of this t.v. show. It is extremely catchy and very appropriate to the theme of the series. I don’t watch the opening title sequence of every t.v. show. There are a select few which I like to watch and yes, Game of Thrones is certainly one of them. Now, the title sequence of The Young Pope has been added to that list.
The Young Pope follows the chronicles of the comparatively young Pope, Lenny Balardo and he goes by the adapted name Pius XIII. He is also the first American Pope and I think these first two lines is suggestive enough that why this is interesting. Like every other archaic institution, the Vatican being the oldest, a set of archaic rules begin to grow its roots into the system. These rules often don’t budge from their place but when a tornado like Lenny comes, everything is in danger of being uprooted. Paolo Sorrentino has scripted and directed one of the best drama/thrillers of this century. I believe I am an atheist but as Lenny says that mystery draws curiosity, in the same way the mystery of the inner workings of the Vatican has always fascinated me beyond imagination. I got to see a fictional look at it when The Da Vinci Code came out and now this has further intrigued me.
Let me give you a taste of what The Young Pope is like and I am pretty sure everyone will like it because it is an amalgamation of two of the best thrillers/drama. Just imagine The Godfather. The tone, the music and now mix it with House of Cards, except now it’s politics with religion. I mean Underwood made politics interesting. Trust me, Lenny will make religion look interesting. I also got a hint of Kubrick in it during Lenny’s visions/dreams. It is amazing how Paolo Sorrentino kept the focus on Lenny. It was like I was there with Lenny the whole time. It was like I was going through whatever he was going through. I felt sick, elated, disgusted and amazed while binge watching this and those are just the tip of the iceberg of emotions that this show brings with it.
Story-wise, this show has all the usual tropes that religion brings along-with it.Scandals, politics, child-rape, cursing, adultery. Not just negatives, there are some significant positives too. There are lessons about faith, trust and believing in oneself. That said, we follow Lenny(Jude Law), who was sent to the orphanage at a very tender age and Sister Mary(Diane Keaton) took him under her care and they grew a very special bond over the years. Alongside Lenny, Mary took Dussolier(Scott Shepherd) under her guidance and Lenny and Dussolier grew a brother-like bond. Cut to present time and Lenny is the new Pope while Dussolier is a Cardinal. I really loved the bond that these three shared and how the dynamics have changed over the years but the love hasn’t. There is an entire episode dedicated to showcasing their relationship and you can’t help but smile during that episode.
In-fact, each and every relationship was portrayed onscreen very beautifully. Each relationship had it’s own set of constraints and it’s own set of advantages and disadvantages for the characters in question. The most interesting one was between Lenny and Voiello. Their continuous jabbing at each other’s reputation really set the screen on fire. Similarly, Lenny and Spencer, Lenny and Suree, Mary and Dussolier, Lenny and Guitterez, The Cardinals, Lenny and Sofia, Lenny and Esther etc. all had it’s own palette of emotions. The fun thing was that every time we saw these characters on-screen, exposition wasn’t necessary to explain their relationship. I have seen this happen in many films and even Hindi shows where the characters keep reminding each other about their relationship status and it does become irritating after a while. Here it is established in such a way that a regular reminder isn’t required and the credit for that goes to the writing as well as the performances.
I think Jude Law needs no more praise than he has already got. He absolutely imbibes the character of Lenny and gives an incredibly nuanced performance. His walk, his mannerisms, his snob air, he just becomes Lenny right from the beginning to the end and it’s electrifying. His performance is everything you can expect and more. Diane Keaton, as one of the more familiar faces, gives a very strong supporting performance. The way she handles the complex and erratic, son-like Lenny was just moving. Silvio Orlando as Cardinal Voiello has a fair amount of screen-time and his performance is as prominent as Jude Law’s. I don’t think there was a single bad performance and I can say that with utmost surety.
Now, the story-line isn’t very complex. Most of the plot-points are explained by Voiello right at the beginning and if you pay enough attention, you will notice the pattern as to how Paolo chooses to simultaneously progress each and every sub-plot. I think this season concentrated more on the sub-plots and less on the grand plot that Lenny keeps talking about. I really laud how Paolo keeps all the sequences in the Vatican City so that we as the audience feel as disconnected as Lenny wants to keep the Church from the media. Any external sequence has a rare shot of the city so that even if a scene is taking place outside of the Vatican, we feel disconnected from the outer world. The only thing that kept bugging me were a few minor incidents that kept taking place. Some of them were shrugged off as miracles and some of them weren’t even addressed. I hope they do address it in the next season or so.
FINAL VERDICT – Theist, atheist, agnostic, libertarian, conservative, whatever the hell you are, you should definitely watch this series. It is an attempt at something different and I can officiate it that it’s a successful attempt. I can’t speak too much about it or else I’ll end up spoiling something. Just like I was afraid for Legion because they began with a bang and I was scared about how they will continue that feeling. Similarly, I have my reservations about this one too but we won’t get to know that till the next season comes out. Until then enjoy this season of The Young Pope.
Thanks for reading.