|Jude Law in HBO's The Young Pope.|
As a product of Catholic education, I’m always curious to see what the world of art and entertainment makes of the Church, and of religious belief in general. The Catholic Church has always drawn its fair share of unflattering depictions, from the hysterics of Protestant Americans worried about waves of Irish immigration in the 19th century to the pulp conspiracy novels of Dan Brown. HBO’s new series, The Young Pope, which was written and directed entirely by creator Paolo Sorrentino (The Great Beauty, Youth) and stars Jude Law in the title role, goes for a much more surreal approach. Judging from the pilot, that’s not necessarily much of an improvement on some of the other, more outlandish takes on the Vatican.
The Young Pope received a wave of advance publicity from some of the weirder corners of the Internet when it became the subject of a series of memes, most of which subjected its apparent premise to faint ridicule. On the surface, it’s a straightforward enough fantasy: what would happen to the Catholic Church if and when a younger pope – and an American to boot! – succeeded to the papal throne? Law plays Lenny Belardo, an orphaned boy who’s taken in by a nun (Diane Keaton) and rises to head the Vatican. While there’s not much in terms of plot in the pilot episode, the basic framework of a traditional drama is there: a controversial figure gains power, but the degree to which rival factions are willing to let him exercise it remains in question. Once the pilot premiered, some Internet wags commented on the show’s fundamental similarities to House of Cards (hence the title of this review).