Saturday 11 February 2017

It's Always Sunny in Vatican City: An Alternate Guide to Viewing The Young Pope

Whether we realize it or not, the very first thing a movie or television show does is teach us how to watch it. It lets the viewer know what lens that film or show should be viewed through. We rely partly on our previous viewing experiences and understandings of genre and tropes, whether actively or subconsciously. We seek to understand how to digest it in order to gain access. In other words, to answer the golden question, "What am I watching?" as quickly as possible.

From the surreal opening images of The Young Pope, we are at a loss to answer that question. It begins with the Pope crawling out from under a massive stack of babies before delivering his first homily in St. Peter’s square. It’s a Lynchian dream sequence within a dream sequence.

Throughout the pilot and subsequent episodes, The Young Pope goes through tonal shifts more often that Vader went through admirals in The Empire Strikes Back. It is, at times: a character study; a comedy; a serious drama about a Pope with abandonment issues (involving both his hippie parents and God); a study in extremism; a political drama; a surrealist, arthouse film; and an odd family drama to name a few.

But that shouldn’t be a real concern. Most great shows manage to be many things at once. The issue with The Young Pope, however, is it seems to only ever be one of these things at a time. It feels choppy. Uneven. It jumps from dark comedy to surrealist fantasy from one scene to another.

And this makes the show inaccessible to many who just want to answer that ‘What am I watching’ question. 

Well, for those of you struggling to find an entry point into The Young Pope, I'm here to offer an entirely unique way to watch the show that I can sum it up with one title card:

That’s right. If you want to watch The Young Pope, but struggle with how to "watch" it, I suggest you try watching the show as if the whole thing is simply a thought exercise that started with the question: “What if Dennis Reynolds became Pope?”

Can you not see Pius XIII’s rants coming out of Dennis’ mouth? Dressed in full papal costume, shouting from the balcony at St. Peter's square. Soaking up the adulation. Sure you can.

Can you identify which of the following quotes belongs to which character?

I know. I’m incredibly handsome, but please, let’s try to forget about that.”

“The thunder of my vengeance will echo through these corridors like the gust of a thousand winds!”

"I'm a handsome man."

"I prayed so hard I nearly shit my pants."

“I want to talk about faith. It's not about whether something is true, or based in fact or reality or the laws of physics or nature or even basic common sense. It's about whether or not we're dumb enough to believe in it that matters. Who the hell am I to say that there is no God? Who am I? Or to say that anybody's belief in the church doesn't make their life better? Maybe it does.”

"I know everything a powerful man needs to know about the people he works with."

Here are some visual clues:

I'm sexy and I know it. Now kiss the shoes:


Make it work:

And for those of you familiar with the D.E.N.N.I.S. system used by Dennis to seduce women. Pius XIII uses a similar system to re-engage and seduce the Catholic followers... the L.E.N.N.Y. system:

I give you Dennis Reynolds, The Young Pope:

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