The public has a popular opinion on villains. We pretend we don’t, but our taste in TV begs to differ. We’ve gone from cheering for Jed Bartlet to Frank Underwood for the White House all in the matter of a decade. Now, the premiere of HBO’s Limited Series The Young Pope reveals the public can stomach a little more corruption and sacrilege than ever before.
Lenny Belardo (Jude Law) makes his debut as Pope Pius XIII, an American Pope who is, you guessed it, young. We find he has a lonely past as an orphan who was raised by a nun, Sister Mary (Diane Keaton). She is flown in to live at the Vatican as Lenny’s personal assistant. As the face of Catholicism, nearly one-fifth of the world’s population, Law creates a persona in Lenny that is cleverly eerie, disconnected and narcissistic.
In the previews of the series, all the jokes have been made: Jude Law as a pope? Jude Law as a young pope who may not believe in God? How could anyone air a series on a religious drama that includes adult content and language, nudity, sexual and explicit content? Hardly seems religious at all.
The cardinals who elected Lenny to lead the church did so, so they could manipulate such a young member to rule the church. Go back in the history of Catholicism, and the plan has been carried out before. It’s no secret that the religion, like any other, has had its fair share of phonies, evildoers and those with ulterior motives. It doesn’t take long, however, for the Vatican’s clergy in modern times to figure out they elected a tyrant who would be the manipulator instead.
The series, which airs on Sundays and Mondays at 9 p.m., is bound to be uncomfortable at first. Viewers will have to separate reality for the hour, though the opening of the series has no shortage of shock and irony. The scene of a cardinal in confession while texting still gets me.
Watch it anyway
However offended you may be, still watch the series for it high production value. The costumes are all handmade with the help and design of Giorgio Armani. Creator and writer of the series, Paolo Sorrentino, made a replica of the Sistine Chapel just so they can film above and within the scenes with natural lighting. It’s also filmed in Rome, so the piazzas and garden terraces are beautiful all by themselves.
Maybe it’s a guilty pleasure. Maybe you just like Jude Law filmed in natural light. The sacrilege is bearable, and you may even wish Lenny Belardo good luck on his journey to shake up one of the most powerful churches in modern times.