“The Young Pope” is Funny, Agonizing, and Beatific

Many think of Italy as the jackboot that kicked the western world. Latin. Fascism. Catholicism. Trade. Art. Doubtless, there is a certain grace and precedence that accompanies Italian identity. Perhaps that is what leads to minds such as Sorrentino.

The latest Fellini to export himself, Sorrentino has a precedent for making works that *move.* Never mind 2013’s brilliant The Great Beauty,  2011’s This Must be the Place was the director’s first time working with an actor the American public easily recognizes (Sean Penn). Thankfully, though, Sorrentino is hardly done analyzing the newcomers that shot and bombed his family 70 years ago. Enter “The Young Pope.”

Starring Jude Law, “The Young Pope” keeps things secular while hinting at magic realism. The latter seems particularly appropriate -the show explores the first U.S. national’s ascent to the papacy. While rooted in the scenario, however, the narrative itself obliges individuality…to an extent. This is evident in the first scene -a lone, light-haired baby crawls over a terrain of still (dead?) babies and emerges as Jude Law dressed in the Pope’s finery. A generic Apple iPhone rings out and the character awakens from his bed as Pope. Cue the electronic music…

We then enter a five-minute music video of Jude Law, as Pope, prepping himself and then wandering through the Vatican maze. Sorrentino truly revels in humanity. Mustachioed nuns. Cardinals wearing crosses heavier than their heads. People of every imaginable ethnicity, shape, and expression.  All, however, wear robes that masque their form. Facial expressions have a premium in religious centers and Sorrentino ponders this for over five minutes.

Finally, our protagonist (narcissistic caricature?) enters the balcony for his first commencement speech. “What have we forgotten?” he asks, and a few times at that. “We have forgotten you! God does not leave anyone behind…I serve God. I serve you,” he then says.  “We have forgotten the women and children who will change this world with their love and their kindness and with their marvelous, divine, disposition to play…”

Our newly elected Pope then lambasts about how we’ve forgotten to masturbate, to use contraceptives, to get abortions, to celebrate gay marriages, to allow priests to marry, to endorse euthanasia, to enjoy sex, to accept divorce, and to allow nuns to say mass. A cardinal with a mole on his face then appears and informs our Pope, our Lenny, that he is no longer a member of the church. The boisterous crowd celebrating his ascent disappears. And Lenny? He then wakes up again.    

Surprise! Our first American Pope has in store a different social revolution. Over the first six episodes, we explore his candor, his history, and his faith. There are plenty inferences we can make. Perhaps most prominently, however, are the countercultural parents who gave him up for adoption. The parallel for much of Gen X, and all misbegotten spawn of partiers for that matter, is evident. So is the personal load, bias, and anger this carries. Our Pope is rebelling against a precedent, and a personal feeling, rather than a tangible actuality.    

Perhaps most prominent is Lenny’s actual commencement speech -this Pope is the first to completely eschew personal effigies.  An apparent conservative, Sorrentino’s and Jude Law’s Pope is both absolutist and esoteric. There are to be no plates, posters, paper napkins, or dildos with his likeness. “I’m handsomer than Jesus Christ,” is perhaps the most memorable thing he’s said…and it’s pretty evident that Sorrentino intends it that way.

If we are being mislead by the protagonist…and his subconscious…and Sorrentino remains to be seen. Tune in and analyze to find out. Jude Law is certainly worth watching, as are other characters starring the likes of Diane Keaton, Silvio Orlando, and Ludivine Sagnier. Besides, Sorrentino notoriously pleases crowds and pleads to intellectuals. His first TV project thankfully conforms to that direction.       

John Lion: John is a freelance writer with a passion for everything TV. A fan of thrillers and suspense, he also enjoys screwball comedies like Louie and Venture Bros. John has a particular fascination with TV's impact on public awareness and concerns. Email him at johnloeblion@gmail.com.