The Young Pope: Season 1 created by Paolo Sorrentino (Wildside, Haut et Court, Mediapro)

Starring Jude Law, Diane Keaton, Silvio Orlando, Javier Cámara, Scott Shepherd, Cécile De France, Ludivine Sagnier, and James Cromwell.

Let’s Go to the Vatican!

I have yet to traverse the globe. My wife and I want to travel; we plan to do so once the kids are out of the house. When we go, I want to see history. I look forward to walking along cobblestone streets in places where people have strolled for centuries before me. When I think about Rome, the Coliseum emerges as a destination. But I might consider the Vatican to be the highest target. The amount of history, the art, the architecture. I want to feel enveloped by the experience. Without the time or money to book a trip there, Paolo Sorrentino’s The Young Pope acts as a decent substitute.

Habemus Papam Iuveni

This highly stylized and inventive season follows the young—young for a pope that is—Lenny Belardo (Jude Law) as he dons the robes of the papacy and adopts the name, Pius XII. Miraculously, Pius navigates the council of cardinals and despite popularity for nominating his mentor, Cardinal Spencer (James Cromwell), Belardo providentially gains a majority.

Unknown to many within Catholic leadership, the young American cardinal becomes a wildcard as Pius. The secretary of the Vatican, Cardinal Voiello (Silvio Orlando) hopes that the youthfulness of the papal authority will allow him to pull the strings as a shadow papacy, while Sofia (Cécile De France), the director of marketing, looks to sell myriad papal merchandise.

And yet, in a rigid, legalistic, and diabolical turn, Pius answers to no one. He imports Sister Mary (Diane Keaton), the maternal figure in his life to be his chief council, relegating Voiello to the periphery. He refuses all marketing plans, suggesting secrecy inspired by artists such as Banksy, Daft Punk, and J.D. Salinger to increase the mysteries of the church.

And perhaps most challenging, Pius acts with a relentless conservative focus. He moves swiftly to rid Vatican leadership of homosexuality.

Surrealist Deep Dives into Character

Eschewing more traditional plot structure, The Young Pope offers a deep dive character study on Lenny Balardo. Paolo Sorrentino, the series’ showrunner, devises the pope as an anti-hero figure, but refuses to wink to the audience to let us know that we are watching an antagonist. Beneath Pius’ diabolical tendencies, we see a man unsure of his powers and unable to reconcile his upbringing with his current vocation. In part, Sister Mary represents a maternal figure to Belardo because his Hippy-parents left him at the steps of Sister Mary’s orphanage when Lenny was young.

With surrealistic flourishes and an intentional ambiguity around Pius as a miracle-creating saint or an atheistic zealot, The Young Pope focuses more around emotional drivers than story telling. Beautiful Vatican backdrops, odd dream sequences, and strange juxtapositions between ancient ritual and modern technology (e.g., a cardinal holding an iPad), The Young Pope is strange but wonderful. An acquired taste for most, I would imagine. But above all, this show makes me want to be there!

Verdict: 3.5 out of 5

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