There’s a new pope in town…a chain-smoking, Cherry Coke Zero-chugging, power-wielding character from the streets of Brooklyn and his name is Lenny Belardo – Pope Pius XIII to you.
HBO’s controversial new series, The Young Pope, made its debut on Sunday night, pulling no punches with an opening sequence that saw the first American Pope imploring his flock to have sex for pleasure and not just to procreate. Nuns should perform mass, gay marriage should be the norm. Cardinals faint left and right at this heresy. Okay, it is only a dream, but you get the picture.
Smoking is not permitted in the Vatican, but Lenny does it anyway. This new pope is an outlaw, a ruthless man with a steely blue-eyed gaze for whom power is absolute, used to seek retribution and to control, even though he was first chosen to be controlled. He was to to be a puppet, used by the Vatican power brokers to bridge the divide between the church’s old world conservative wing and the more liberal believers. But Lenny as Pope Pius XIII is no man’s puppet, instead, he pulls all the strings.
In the last scene of the premiere, Lenny confesses that he does not believe in God. “I believe only in myself,” he says at another point.
So, what is the purpose of his reign? We will have to keep watching to find out more, but forward movement is not the plan. Progressiveness is not to be the order of the day. Lenny wants to return the church to its former decadent glory and even more conservative past. He will not be trotted out for constant public consumption either. Insularity and a certain rigidity will instead prevail.
There is one figure who seems capable of piercing Lenny’s ugly outer shell, Sister Mary (Diane Keaton), the nun who practically raised him when he was orphaned. She will be his special advisor, part of her task, to keep a close eye on Cardinal Secretary of State Voiello (Silvio Orlando) who will undoubtedly present problems for Lenny. He is of the old guard, suspicious, tasking an aide to dig up dirt on Lenny to be employed at a later date if necessary.
Jude Law makes quite the devilish Pope. His take on the pontiff is a ruthless one, cloaked in beautiful vestments that belie the darkness that resides within the man. Law’s natural cheek lends itself well to the role as a vein of humor and near absurdity runs through the show.
With high production value, and all the opulent trimmings of the church put on full display, show creator Paolo Sorrentino’s (Il Divo, The Great Beauty, Youth) take on the Catholic Church is a sardonic one, with issues of faith, power and morality subverted, presumably to make us question, think, and ultimately talk about the show. Religion is always polarizing and The Young Pope is as well. You will either buy into it for what it is, or hate it. It’s that simple. There’s little in between.
‘THE YOUNG POPE’ AIRS ON HBO, SUNDAYS AND MONDAYS, 9 P.M.