RECOMMENDED: "THE YOUNG POPE" on HBO GO/PLUS
I found myself wondering frequently during the first two or three episodes of "The Young Pope" if I was actually enjoying it. The show has a lot going for it, of course. Jude Law is a great actor, and Lenny Belardo, the Archibishop of New York who SOMEHOW becomes the unexpected titular pontiff, is a role as unconventional as it is juicy. It's lush and visionary and cinematic, and the sets really reflect the awe-inspiring immensity of The Vatican. (Or what I'd imagine the awe-inspiring immensity of The Vatican is like. I've never been.)
But the show also feels like it keeps you at arm's length. Very little backstory or context is revealed up front. You come to know the ensemble by their faces and characteristics long before you learn their names. Dream sequences begin without warning and sometimes don't seem to end, until you realize you've been back in reality for a minute or two already. Plotlines are picked up, abandoned, and then re-started several episodes later. There are hints that it's taking place in a surreal fantasy world, but largely remains at least semi-realistic (though how would any of us really know if it did accurately reflect the day-to-day life of the Pope?)
Thematically, it's a series about mystery: Lenny as Pope Pius XIII refuses to show his face to the public, he references a "plan" that he won't reveal to anyone and seems fixated on the idea that he must become as unknowable as the God he serves and represents. So it makes sense that the experience of watching "The Young Pope" feels at times like putting a puzzle together, studying inscrutable clues in an attempt to unlock the actual story, to "figure out" who Lenny really is and what he plans to do now that he's the Lord's representative on Earth. It's sometimes frustrating, but worth the effort in those moments when everything clicks and the threads seem to come together.
Plus it's surprisingly funny, and intentionally so, not just as a sideshow or meme factory. And there's a kangaroo. I suggest you give it 3 episodes before deciding if you like it or not.
Title: "The Young Pope"
Where to Watch: HBO Go/HBO Now
Episodes: 10 total (6 available so far)
Runtime: About 60 minutes each