Blog post by Ross Munro for Wholly Cinema.

When I saw the first sighting of smoke in the distance announcing a brand spanking new show about a pope I remember being about as excited as when I heard that Fox TV was coming out with “Master Chef Junior”- about a bunch of nine year olds competing to see who can bake the best soufflé (instead of being eliminated from competition, the losers get a spanking with a wooden spoon).

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But then details slowly but surely started leaking out: it was going to star the amazing British actor Jude Law, the incredible Diane Keaton and the always reliable James Cromwell. And it had Italian visionary Paolo Sorrentino to guide this thing through the HBO ten episode Season 1 arc.

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Director Sorrentino (Oscar winner for “The Great Beauty” as well as the Cannes darling “Youth”) has the profoundly surreal stylings and bravura visuals of the bastard love child of Fellini and Lina Wertmuller. This was starting to get interesting…

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After gobbling up the first six hour long episodes I can only say that this irreverent mix of satire and drama about Jude Law’s upstart American Pope (“Pius XIII”- what-was the name “Steve” taken…?) as he’s thrust into the Vatican’s highest position- no, not the person in charge of their vintage nudie magazine collection- via some nefarious backstage in-fighting.

Jude Law plays the new pope with a mixture of menace and smarmy cockiness like a papal Mick Jagger while his Cardinals scurry around like frantic backstage roadies living in paranoia of being ex-communicated for not properly removing all the red M&M’s in strict accordance with his contractually stipulated Vatican concert riders.

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From the ultra cool opening credits utilizing Bob Dylan’s (by way of Hendrix) “All Along The Watchtower” to the richly textured “The Godfather” influenced cinematography of Sorrentino’s right hand cameraman Luca Bigazzi, “The Young Pope” slashes and provokes in its wicked satire the Machivelean behind the scenes political backstabbing of the world’s largest corporation (no- not Wal-mart…).

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Kudos to unheralded Italian actor Silvio Orlando who plays the long-suffering Cardinal Vaiello- the Salieri to Jude Law’s pope-ish Amadeus- as he tries in vain to keep the Vatican ship righted despite the new pope’s attempts to “drain the swamp” (new catch phrase) of the Catholic Church.

Basically, what we have on our hands is an exciting, sexy soap opera that reimagines today’s pope as if he were Hugh Hefner and the majestic and sweep of the Vatican were the Playboy Mansion. I know what you’re thinking: “Who’s the unfortunate soul that has to drain the grotto’s filtration system…?”.

Now it’s time to get back to my second favorite new TV show of this season- “Celebrity Wife Swap Junior” which follows the latest network fad of re-booting their existing shows featuring small children instead of the usual assortment of adults. Tonight’s episode: “Billy Eats a Booger”.

Who said they don’t make riveting television anymore?

Viva La Cinema!

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