WHAT IT'S ABOUT:
Pope John Paul III takes over the papal throne after Pope Pius XIII has a heart attack that leaves him in a coma.
WHAT WE THOUGHT:
I did not watch The Young Pope but got caught up on what it was all about before getting into The New Pope. But to be honest, if you haven't watched The Young Pope, you won't be terribly lost. Most of what occurred during The Young Pope was resolved in its series finale, and the only repercussions are that Pius XIII aka Lenny Belardo is in a coma that he unlikely will not wake up from. So a new pope has to be elected. And as always the political machinations amongst the cardinals and in particular that of the Secretary of State, Cardinal Voiello is what most of this series revolves around.
Voiello needs a Pope to be the face of the Church while he runs everything in the background, basically a puppet. But wow, what a mistake he makes in engineering that Tommaso Viglietti be that puppet. At first, the newly elected Pope Francis II seems to be easy to control, until he comes into his own and in a hilarious turn of events seeks to bring the Roman Catholic Church back to basics. Gone are the gaudy gold crosses, the cardinals have to make do with modest wooden ones. He intends to sell off all the Church's famous paintings, art and riches to give to charity. He opens the Vatican to refugees. It's all too much for Voiello, and he orchestrates an "accidental" death.
They somehow convince enigmatic Sir John Brannox to take up the position of Supreme Pontiff. John Malkovitch, as usual, is magnificent but I was confused by his accent. His accent was often affected by some American and even Italian pronunciations but I soon just gave up on trying to place it and accepted it for what it was.
The dialogue is very important in this show because Brannox, now called Pope John Paul III, speaks in such a highfalutin way that you really have to listen very carefully to what he says. This is not something you can watch on the side or in the background. You need to pay attention to all the moving parts because there are a lot of them.
In the end, Pius XIII obviously wakes up and takes his place as Pope again. Only to die while crowd surfing? I don't know. There were a lot of parts of this show that were very confusing to me. I didn't understand Lenny at the beach at the very end. Was he in Heaven? This was the same beach where his cult of followers also walked into. What is going on? It's all very existential. But maybe I just don't understand director Paolo Sorrentino's vision with this.
The music used in the series is also very jarring for a show about the Roman Catholic Church. The opening sequence of the nuns having an after-party in the seminary in front of a giant neon crucifix to a remix of All Along the Watchtower was such juxtaposition.
One of my favourite things about the series is the cinematography, especially all the aerial shots of Rome and Venice. Another plotline I loved was the little war between the nuns and Voiello. The nuns just want a little respect, but the men of the Church are steeped in patriarchy. So they occupy the Sistine Chapel and go on strike. This means that the cardinals have to do their own laundry and cooking. What a scandal!
The New Pope is a good one to watch if the intrigues and machinations of church politics interest you. Even though there are only nine episodes, they're each an hour long and arduous and can feel like it's taking forever for not much to happen. It's definitely not a binge-watch, but I don't think Sorrentino intended it to be so.
WATCH THE TRAILER HERE: