“The Young Pope” is HBO’s newest original series that, in accordance with HBO’s niche, flirts with themes of disturbia and abuse of power. This time, however, it does so in a manner that takes on the heart of religion itself. In what is possibly Jude Law’s (“The Holiday”) most outlandish performance, he portrays a youthful Pope Pius XIII. Perhaps the most frightening aspect of this new drama is just how disturbing change can feel in a place untouched by the ages. After watching just an episode, I’m unsure whether I should continue with the series or consider returning to church.
Despite the backwardness of it all, the series poses an interesting question in the unprecedented election of a, well, young Pope: How might the new Pope’s more conservative ideals fit into the Catholic church moving in a more progressive direction? It’s an interesting idea that (though unheard of) deserves consideration. However, it is also quite an uncomfortable hypothetical to ponder. Fictional Pope Pius XIII — also known as Lenny Belardo, The Holy Father or His Eminence — is an unconventional Pope, one who claims heresy against a carbonated beverage and demands the papal crown’s deliverance from Washington D.C. for personal enjoyment. In one instance, he goes as far to question the existence of God in a conversation that can either be interpreted with a twisted sense of humor or as an actual confession, as he does claim not to buy into the tradition of Confession. After all, what should the Pope have to confess?
Although the corruption of power is palpable at times, it is the instances in which Lenny silently abuses his power — picking at the inner workings of the Vatican as a skilled musician might pluck the strings of their instrument — that are most captivating. Cleverly wicked, Law’s performance of the new Pope is at its best when he quietly asserts dominance over the Church, reminding his followers of his divine powers. If nothing else, it is a depiction of how a narcissist’s rise to power in one of the most powerful places on Earth could affect everything we know.
Though “The Young Pope” can feel outrageous at times, it’s important to remember that the series is quite aware of the boundaries its creators are pushing with religion and social controversies. When posed with the question regarding God’s house, Lenny muses: “Half of a duplex … with a private swimming pool.” With multiple fourth-wall transgressions, the series is hyper-cognizant of its own mordant sense of humor. From pop music cues to talks of increasing cell phone coverage within the Vatican, this new Pope listens to no voice other than his own.
However, there are times in which one is unsure whether to laugh with mirth or nervousness. “Jokes are rarely telling,” Lenny proffers, a saying that is ironically in contradiction to the premise of the series. The series ponders the more serious questions of power abuse in a darker drama. Though sassy at times, it’s important to remember the parallels the “The Young Pope” draws to the social commentary of today.
With a flick of a cigarette and the spilling ash striking the Vatican’s marble floors, Law breathes, “There’s a new Pope now.” One cannot help but enthusiastically agree with that statement, as he gracefully glides over the Vatican as if it were a stage, a smug smile plastered to his face. “The Young Pope” questions religion and takes on challenging and outlandish subject matter, the cinematographically pleasing shots, partnered with Jude Law’s stellar performance and the striking similarities between today’s culture, make watching “The Young Pope” a dark pleasure.