Editor’s Note: This is the first (and likely only) installment of Drunkview, an unsanctioned and unwarranted GBT series during which I, David, will pound back a few glasses of whiskey & soda before watching a new bit of film and/or television that I deem to be “preposterous.” For this first installment, we present: HBO’s The Young Pope (Episode 1).
Early in the pilot of HBO’s The Young Pope, one of the pontiff’s devious Cardinal cronies mewls, “May your reign by long and prosperous, your Eminence.” Clapping back, the Pope proclaims, “I’ll settle for long.” The Cardinal compliments the Pope’s joke, calling it “telling,” to which the titular young Pope replies, “There’s nothing telling about jokes. They’re jokes.”
He could very well be talking about this fucking show.
Episode 1 of The Young Pope opens with newly elected Pope Pius XIII, Father Lenny Belardo (Jude Law), crawling out of a colossal mound of dead babies and into St. Peter’s square. Why? The show offers no answers because The Young Pope is too busy asking itself the same question. About this scene…and the next. And the next. And the next and the next and the next and the entire implicit premise of this show is to present a scene which serves only to demand of the viewer a puzzled expression and an aggravated curiosity. No answers are provided and honestly no questions are asked; merely the shadow of confusion cast astride every scene, even those which are over encumbered by blatantly expositional dialogue and self-aggrandizing surrealism.
Imagine the love-child of high-90s Scorsese and socio-critical Luis Bunuel and you might picture Paolo Sorrentino’s visual style in The Young Pope. The editing is scatterbrained at best and downright incomprehensible at worst, but unlike the absurdist masterworks which it pays homage to, the contents of Sorrentino’s frames seem to be purely cosmetic. The result is a strange pastiche of meticulously crafted sets and costumes flowing together in eerily unwatchable sequence. The entirety of The Young Pope feels like the introduction to a pretentious, overly artistic porno.
During the climax of the pilot episode, Jude Law’s Lenny Belardo meets with Cardinal Voiello (Silvio Orlando), the supposed “Chief Of Staff” of the papacy. As Belardo, at this point known as Pius XIII, lights a cigarette, Voiello exclaims, “Your Eminence, there is no smoking in the papal palace!” After a bit of back-and-forth about the establishing of the rule by Pope John Paul II, Pius XIII takes a long drag of his cigarette and comes back with, “Well, there’s a new Pope now.”
Three scenes earlier, the new Pope is knee-deep in the throes of a quaint dream-sequence, during which two scheming cardinals slap each-other across the face. All of this is buoyed (or drowned, depending on your opinion) by a gratuitous use of voiceover and self-evident exposition. At one point, Lenny’s old matron Sister Mary (Diane Keaton) unironically tells Pius XIII, “You are the Pope now, the leader of the Catholic Church.” Well…fuck…duh.
The Young Pope is a strange, visually stunning experiment with a high-concept narrative. And while the concept might seem woefully one dimensional given the title, i.e. “There’s a Pope but he’s YOUNG,” the contradictory conservatism and tyrannical nature of 47-year-old pontiff Pius XIII is at least intriguing enough of a storyline to command attention for a full hour.
There’s a lot of weird shit in here. Remember the classic scene when the camera fucking zooms in to the papal balcony from all the way down St. Peter’s square and halts the zoom just in time for the newly-elected Pope to deliver the line: “We have forgotten to MASTURBATE!!” I do. I just watched this shit. The fuck does that mean? Is it an ironic foil to the rash conservatism of the Pope revealed in later scenes? How does that fit into the notion of him as a pseudo-progressive, with his appointment of his mother-substitute Sister Mary (Keaton) as his ‘Special Assistant?’ This is most certainly a Trump allegory, right? A young ‘outsider’ (Pope Pius XIII is American) is elected in an effort by the scheming bureaucrats in charge of the Vatican to ‘shake things up’ but also to effectively serve as a puppet for the higher-ups, only for this newly elected wild-card to blow the lid off the whole operation by letting all the God-given (literally) power rush straight to his head and start ordering Cherry Cokes in the morning and demanding high-ranking Cardinals to “make me a fucking coffee.” The hell just happened?
Watch this if you’re into slow-motion shots of Cardinals walking through the Vatican set to eerily Eyes Wide Shut (1999, you f***ing happy Reed?) – esque score. There’s a new Pope and he young.