HBO’s The Young Pope is a Tired Political Drama Wrapped in Shock Value

Photo Credit: HBO

The Young Pope Plot Summary:

There’s a new Pope in town, and his name is Lenny Belardo (Jude Law) aka Pope Pius. The Cardinals believe that they can manipulate him because of his mentor (James Cromwell), but Belardo shocks them all with his icy personality, liberal philosophy, and his right hand Sister Mary (Diane Keaton).

HBO’s new limited series The Young Pope reminds me of that person you meet in college who’s taken one or two philosophy courses, and can’t stop quoting books about the lack of God’s existence. This same person has also taken up smoking reds, has had one drink of absinthe, and only watches French cinema, and listen to obscure garage rock from the ’70s.

In short, The Young Pope is a pretentious drama that tries to shock you with its fever dream visuals, and “brazen” dialogue. The shock seems to be in place to cause controversy (to bring in viewers), and most importantly to mask a tired plot that we’ve seen far too many times before — the church is corrupt, it’s a business, and the people in it are the worst. To some it’ll seem like a JV Game of Thrones (not literally obviously) with all its political maneuvering and subterfuge. Sadly, there are no dragons, and epic battle sequences (or good writing) to save us from the show’s rather tedious and tired expository dialogue.

Jude Law does the best he can with what he’s given. His lines are supposed to be brazen and brash, and for the most part, Law nails it. However, there’s a dream sequence early on where he gives this controversial address to the masses in Vatican City that is so hammy and camp that’ll have you cringing throughout.

The one major positive of the premiere episode is Law’s chemistry with Diane Keaton, who portrays his “mom” Sister Mary, the woman who raised him. Keaton, who’s been relegated to more fluffy material in the past decade or so, reminds us how much of a dramatic powerhouse she can be. Her performance is understated, but cutting and impactful. Her scenes with Law, albeit short, are complex and could lead to some really interesting developments in the series down the road.

But that’s the problem. Remember that person I described in the opening of the review? While they may a super cool person once you get to know them, it’s hard after that initial, pretentious meet to want to get to know them. First impressions mean a lot, and The Young Pope did nothing to impress. In fact, it repulsed. If you have patience, and you can get through the unneccessary shock value, this you could be impressed with this show. However, in a time when there’s a lot of great television on regular television, and streaming platforms, The Young Pope may not have a prayer in finding an audience.

Rating: 3 out of 10

Bill Bodkin is the gray bearded owner, editor-in-chief and co-founder of Pop Break. Most importantly, he is lucky husband, and proud father to a beautiful daughter named Sophie. He can be seen regularly on the site reviewing The Walking Dead, Doctor Who, and is the host of the site’s podcast, The BreakCast. He is a graduate of Rutgers University with a degree in Journalism & English. Follow him on Twitter: @BodkinWrites