I have now seen two episodes of the new HBO (etc.) series The Young Pope. It has already run across the Pond.
It is visually rich, cynical, creepy, weird, unpredictable, sacrilegious and clever.
Try to get your head around Fellini’s Roma morphed by Quentin Tarantino (who belongs in jail) with House of Cards.
The production values are high. There is some gratuitous nudity and a bit of sex. Flashbacks are important. I think there are lots of little symbols and cues. For example, during a flashback you see the main character as a boy, who has as a label on his jeans an American flag superimposed by the letters UFO: he’s an known object from America, flying by the seat of his pants, as it were.
I suspect that part of the underlying motives for making the show is to mock the Church. The major motive, however, was probably the desire to make a surreal show with intrigue against a truly gorgeous backdrop.
I wonder also if this is a bit of a reaction to Pope Francis. It is both a “thank God for Pope Francis” and a “we need less of Pope Francis” show. There is tension of modern and traditional. The episodes seem to say, “Thank God we don’t have anything like this guy” and, at the same time, “Maybe we could use a little more of this guy”.
The filming locations were well chosen and they have enough elements to recall the real thing. Although for someone who lived in Rome as long as I did and worked in the Vatican, it is a little distracting to see people occasionally going the wrong way or to see impossible things. Also, there are moments when locations are nearly perfectly reproduced. Amazing.
Frankly, I share some of the goals of this weird fictional Pope. On this blog I have often mentioned that once We are elected Pope we will disappear into the Apostolic Palace for lengths of time so long that people shall wonder if We are still alive. The idea is that the Church has given in to the world too much. It is time to recover, Church-wide, a sense of mystery and that “the world” is still one of the three perpetual enemies which we all battle. I cheered the creepy fictional Pope’s decision to recover the tiara that Paul VI sold and which is now in Washington DC. I also very much like the fact that he sacked the Prefect for Clergy for being homosexual and said that he it is unacceptable that a homosexual be in charge of training priests. Hurray! And he sacked the Secretary of State with real style.
There are some great one liners. It helps to be well-read to follow it. Also, since it was made by Italians, they capture well the ecclesio-babble that only Italians can accomplish.
There are memorable speeches, such as when he met the cook for the first time, changed the Vatican’s marketing policy and, of course his first speech to the world from the balcony of San Pietro. That speech, which the first two episodes built up to, was marvelously monstrous, gloriously brutal, falsely true and, truly, false. It is on YouTube. Don’t watch it if you don’t want spoilers. I don’t like spoilers so I won’t post it or the link.
The next episode will be the moment when I decide whether I will continue to watch it or not.