bill bodkin looks at less than artistic debut …
Da Vinci’s Demons is probably one of the most interesting shows this reviewer has ever come across.
Now let’s qualify this statement.
First and foremost, the actual show Da Vinci’s Demons is terrible. Unnecessarily convoluted, rife with terrible supporting acting, cartoonish and superfluous special effects and frankly way too much old man nudity (yes, we get a shot of an older man’s junk within the first 20 minutes).
Yet, despite how bad the show itself is, the series star, British actor Tom Riley, is absolutely mesmerizing.
And that’s why this show is so interesting — it’s one of the worst shows on television featuring one of the best performances on the air.
Riley, who made his bones in across the pond TV and bit roles in horror films, portrays Leonardo Da Vinci as as a haunted hero/hooligan who, when he’s not coming up with inventions or painting, is cavorting with his pals, bedding women and raising hell a long the way.
Riley’s Da Vinci hits every note perfectly — he’s affable and charming, he’s believable in action sequences and scenes of high drama. He makes you feel the artist’s heartbreaking struggles yet he still can throw in some well-placed jokes to keep it light. He makes Da Vinci part genius, part mad man, part party boy, part swashbuckler. It’s a brilliant portrayal.
Sadly, the rest of this Starz-produced series does not come close to complementing his performance. When Riley is off screen, the show grinds to an absolute halt reverting to sexual shock tactics (like male Catholic Church members engaged in homosexual acts or just utterly gratuitous female nude scenes) or AP Trigonometry-level complications of the plot. None of this helps the series at all. Nor does this cover up the fact that the rest of the cast (outside of a brief appearance by Alexander Siddig of Syriana and 24 fame) are some of the absolute worst actors assembled. This crew shouldn’t be the leads in community theater let alone a major, multi-million dollar production.
And then there’s the absolutely awful special effects — which, by the way, are completely unnecessary. Do we need every set piece to be computer-generated? And if the answer is yes — can’t they look half-way decent and not something a novice computer artist put together?
Da Vinci’s Demons had a lot of potential, but ultimately falls miserably short of the promise its trailers hinted at it. Outside of Tom Riley’s wonderful performance, this series is not worth your time and proves that Starz has a long way to go if it wants to get on par with its premium channel brethren’s original programming.