The Pope’s inscrutable style is central to the show’s off-kilter tone. He smokes in his office, orders a high-ranking official to fetch him coffee, makes imperious proclamations (“I put no stock in consensus”) and ignores long-established protocols.
Yet this unpredictability (think of him as the first Trump-ian pope) doesn’t provide much insight to gain a bead on or care about the character. And the strange behavior merely invites questions regarding how on Earth he got elected, passing over an elder Cardinal (James Cromwell) and mentor who is clearly resentful.
Law brings an element of star power to the role, but he’s largely handcuffed by shortcomings in the writing. Nor is the ostensible glimpse into the Vatican’s intramural politics particularly interesting given how cartoonish the key player appears.
Shot in Italy, South Africa and the U.S., the internationally co-produced series is handsomely mounted, as befits an HBO drama. But those gilded trappings don’t make the exercise any less hollow — or what the network saw in it less puzzling. (Like CNN, HBO is a unit of Time Warner.)
“There’s a new pope now,” Pius announces at one point, sounding a bit like the warning that there’s a new sheriff in town.
“The Young Pope” is new, but hardly improved. And to use a very American expression, the series too often feels as if it’s all hat, and no cattle.
“The Young Pope” premieres January 15 at 9 p.m. on HBO.