We’ve reached Peak Pontifex
The Sopranos, The Wire, Game of Thrones… HBO is architect of what is now known as Peak TV. There are other brilliant shows on other great networks but HBO is expected to be A+ all the time, and don’t think they don’t know it.
Case in point: the 47-second trailer for The Young Pope starring Jude Law. I’ll let you watch but please come back.
Now I’ll give you a moment to recover from being slapped in the face with PRESTIGE. Are you dizzy? That’s because you’ve been pounded into Peak TV submission with Peak Pontifex.
All the markers are here: we’ve got the heady voiceover, provocative imagery (Pope broodily smokes, Pope at confession, Pope prays in a pool), a serious nun played by Diane Keaton (interesting in that few women live at Vatican City), some kind of moral and political power struggle and sinister forces at work. Jude is giving a monologue in a mirror like he’s projecting to the cheap seats at Madison Square Garden. That “I am God” line? Not subtle. This isn’t to say it doesn’t work – early reviews from the Venice Film Festival, which screened two episodes, were largely positive (I wish I had come up with the House of Cardinals line here).
The trailer is meant to be a visceral tease, and it works. I wasn’t the most attentive student during my 7 years of Catechism (I mostly remember Pope John Paul II as a wall tapestry my aunt and uncle had hanging in their living room) and I don’t follow current Church doctrine, but this isn’t about religion, it’s about showmanship. It’s about sin and hubris and tradition and deceit – you know, the good stuff. There is flair but there are also universal themes being explored in a mysterious and hyper-traditional world that is constantly pulling and pushing against the crush of evolving societal mores.
After just 45 seconds, of course I want more. Why did they pick such a young Pope? Why did they choose an American? They show someone kissing his feet, so I’m interested in the shoes. What kind of shoes does he wear and who makes them? There’s historical significance to Pope’s shoe choice -- it looks like Young Pope favours fancy footwear (unlike current, real life Cool Pope Francis, who opts for a simple black pair). What is it that Pope Jude wants, because he clearly wants something?
And there’s talk of a revolution, but what kind of revolution? Is he a progressive Pope, or is he a pre-Vatican II kind of guy? This is Peak TV HBO so we are going to get sex. Maybe a murder or two. Some kind of dark secret will be revealed. An important character may be killed off in the first episode. There’ll be an alcoholic who is either very wise or very entertaining (or both). There’ll be passionate monologues. Historic and oppressive scenery. Lots of heady religious imagery (which Catholicism is aces at). A massive conspiracy at work.
Oh and jaunty hats. Young Pope’s hat choice seems actively eccentric. To go with the shoes?
(For more Young Pope, SKY has a longer trailer here.)