Tuesday, February 14, 2017

TV Show Review: The Young Pope

HBO's strange new drama mixes comedy and absurdity into a strange show about a pope ascending too soon to the leadership of the Catholic Church. The Holy Father Pope Pius XIII (Jude Law) used to be a simple priest named Lenny Belardo before political dealings make him the Holy See. At the forefront of these religious machinations is Cardinal Voiello (Silvio Orlando) who quickly realizes, he has more on his hands than he bargained for. The young pope assigns the nun who raised him Sister Mary (Diane Keaton) to a high position, much to the chagrin of Cardinal Voiello. Lenny's mentor Cardinal Michael Spencer (James Cromwell) is jealous of his young student and reacts bitterly to the appointment.

Pius the 13th immediately enacts strong decrees and refuses to let television cameras record his image preferring to remain mysterious and distant from believers. He demands respect for the church and commands that the faithful must seek out God, not the other way around, even as attendance and membership decline. The other cardinals conspire various ways to dispose of the pope but he seems immune to all of their attempts to slander and discredit him. He negotiates a deal with the Italian prime minister and charms other foreign dignitaries, using his youth and charm.

His childhood friend and pretty much brother Cardinal Dussolier (Scott Shepherd) feels guilty when a young gay man commits suicide over a new regulation that restricts homosexuals from entering the church.  He also becomes involved with a Mexican gangster's mistress, which leads to more trouble for the pope. One thing that does help the Pope's stature is his somewhat supernatural power like helping a barren woman conceive, eliminated evil nuns, and cause plane turbulence. 

The final episodes revolve around the investigation of a priest in New York accused of molestation. Pope Pius sent Cardinal Gutierrez (Javier Camara) to investigate and he works to discover the awful truth. The show does not shy away from the complicated subjects and highlights the absurd nature of the church's decrees. The creator Paolo Sorrentino takes a mixed look at religion showing both positive and negative effects of hard-lined faith. 

The Young Pope takes a strange look at religion with an odd mix of humor and drama. I understand how some viewers could find the episodes slow and boring as things take a while to take hold. I found the characters enjoyable and interesting with the political intrigue of the Vatican. Despite the pope's ridiculous behavior, there are worse villains and the pope becomes endearing for the way he handles these difficult situations. I enjoyed this limited series but couldn't see it continuing on for more than one season. 

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