Blu-ray Review: The Young Pope - An HBO Limited Series

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Jude Law is the Pope in HBO's strange, hypnotic limited series The Young Pope. Lenny Belardo (Law) has been elected Pope, the first American to do so. Throughout ten episodes, we learn the reasons how he achieved the Catholic Church’s highest position at such a relatively young age. We also see Lenny, who has adopted the name Pious XIII, give in to the temptations presented by the great power he wields.

Created by filmmaker Paolo Sorrentino, it’s hard to turn away from The Young Pope. The imagery is often striking. The performances—not only Jude Law’s but also supporting cast members Diane Keaton, Silvio Orlando, and James Cromwell—are understated yet intense. And if you’re looking for something wholly unpredictable, this is your show. Unfortunately, despite all these elements, the storytelling is often confusing.

As a child, Lenny was abandoned by his hippie parents. After being dropped off at an orphanage, Lenny is raised by Sister Mary (Allison Case as a young woman, Keaton as an adult). Brief but frequent flashbacks shed a bit of light on the mystery that is Pope Pious. Sorrentino, director and co-writer of each episode, certainly can’t be accused of spoon-feeding his concepts to us. Part of the show’s allure is the way that it keeps Pious at arm’s length. He has decided to plunge the Catholic Church into a far more conservative era. He abhors abortion, homosexuality, and anything less than total devotion to God.

As fascinating as it all is, and as many out of left field plot twists there are, The Young Pope is a frustrating enigma. As Pious becomes increasingly disliked throughout the Vatican, with Cardinal Angelo Voiello (Orlando) his most prominent adversary, the politics and various misdeeds turn the series into something resembling a crime drama. Pious appears to everyone as more or less an obstacle standing in the way of the Church’s regular duties. Cromwell is Pious/Lenny’s surrogate father, Cardinal Michael Spencer—a bitter man who believes Lenny cost him his shot at becoming Pope. Guy Boyd is Archbishop Kurtwell, who’s believed to have sexually abused many a child. Scott Shepard is Cardinal Andrew Dussolier, Lenny’s lifelong friend and fellow orphan. Both he and Lenny regard Sister Mary as their mother.

These elements don’t coalesce in an entirely satisfying way, but The Young Pope remains quite a watchable series. While these first ten episodes are labeled “An HBO Limited Series,” the network has apparently expanded it into an ongoing series, with a second season to follow.

HBO Home Entertainment’s The Young Pope Blu-ray offers an excellent presentation of Luca Bigazzi’s spectacular cinematography (Bigazzi is a frequent Sorrentino collaborator, see his tremendous work in the director’s Youth from 2015). Each episode features DTS-HD MA 5.1 audio.

The special features could have been a lot more special. Spread over the set’s three discs there are five very short (two-three minutes each) “Inside the Episode” featurettes. “An Invitation to the Set” is equally short and equally unrevealing. Looking like an in-depth documentary by comparison, “The Making of The Young Pope” is a decent 12-minute featurette.

 
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Chaz Lipp is a Seattle-based freelance writer whose focus is film and music. His new jazz album Good Merlin is now available.

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