The Young Pope review: It’s a Miracle of God that Jude Law’s controversial HBO show made it to India at all
The Young Pope
Cast - Jude Law, Diane Keaton, Silvio Orlando, Cécile de France, Ludivine Sagnier, James Cromwell
Rating - 3/5
To make a show like The Young Pope in India, to even contemplate creating something like it, is not possible. It would incite riots. There would be protests on the streets, property would be destroyed and the live debates that would follow on primetime TV would end, as they often do, in name-calling and verbal warfare. Prisons would welcome new inmates, the show’s creators would be humiliated publicly and made an example of. In India, religious sentiments are easily hurt. In India, bans are handed out like ‘prasad’ is in temples.
None of this, mind you, is a comment on the quality of the show. Honestly, when is it ever? When have we, as a country, ever let the quality of a show - or film, or book - get in the way of a good protest? Art is an easy target. Condemning it is an easy distraction.
But picture this for a moment: The Pope, an unusually good-looking man in his mid-forties, with the face of Jude Law, and the manner of Mick Jagger, getting ready for his inaugural address. Behind him plays the classic song ‘Sexy and I Know It’ by LMFAO. Dangling from his lips, a limp cigarette, and balanced on the bridge of his nose, Wayfarers that would make Marcello Mastroianni proud.
“You know something, Holy Father?” asks his Camerlengo, treading very, very carefully. “You are as handsome as Jesus.”
The Pope, born Lenny Belardo, former Archbishop of New York, takes a beat, and fires back: “I may be more handsome. But keep that to yourself.”
He then proceeds to deliver an address that shakes the very foundations of a Catholic Church that is becoming increasingly liberal, cultured to be more forgiving, and more open by Lenny’s predecessor. It’s a speech that would send the Ayatollah Khomeini scurrying away in shame.
In a move that shocks the world, Pope Pious XIII (Lenny’s moniker of choice) condemns abortion, and commands the faithful to submit fully to God, or face His wrath. There would be no room for those with even the slightest doubt. He pools homosexuals together with paedophiles and vows to weed them out from his Church. And he begins all this, his address, and the sycophantic rise to the top that follows, with a knock-knock joke.
It’s still early days, and season 1 barely provides a glimpse of what is to come, but it will be interesting to see where Lenny Belardo’s journey takes him. He is a fine addition to the ever-swelling list of TV antiheroes, which has grown to the point that very soon, there would be no room left. Walter White, Frank Underwood, Tony Soprano, John Thackery… Lenny Belardo, he who likens himself to JD Salinger, Stanley Kubrick and Daft Punk.
But once the shock wears off, once series director Paolo Sorrentino’s trademark dreamlike, surreal style becomes slightly repetitive, and once the unpredictability of Pious XIII becomes insufferable (despite Jude Law’s complete and utter submission into dangerously crazy territory), what are we left with?
Well, we have a character that is motivated by basically a single event from his past (his abandonment at the hands of his hippie parents), supporting characters that are either completely forgotten after a few episodes (poor, poor Diane Keaton) or are confusingly underutilised, and a show that cannot decide which side to take.
Sorrentino gleefuly satirises the Church’s theatricality, and its unstable place in the modern world, and then spends the rest of the time ‘what if-ing’ his way through several controversial issues.
What if God really exists? What if Lenny really has the power to perform miracles? What if these ‘miracles’ are larger than everything else – the corruption, the scandal, the degeneracy, and the child abuse? The show touches on it all, but only very briefly. But its biggest sin is its belief – its absolute faith - in the thought that if all this were to be true, then PopePious XIII’s policies would be acceptable.
As it stands, The Young Pope ends on an abrupt note – but with the faintest hint of a melting heart, evolving beliefs, and long-awaited closure.
Watch the Young Pope trailer here