HBO’s “The Young Pope” stinks. I should add that I haven’t seen it. “But you can’t say something stinks that you haven’t seen!” Nonsense. I have never seen a whale slaughtered and did not watch this year’s Pro Bowl game, but I can safely say both stink.
Specifically in regard to “The Young Pope,” people I know and trust tell me it stinks. That’s more than good enough for me. But descriptions of the show also help push that judgment along.
According to a January review by Chris Byrd from Catholic News Service, behind the beginning credits of the opener, a naked baby “crawls over a sea of infant mannequins, and a man dressed as the Roman pontiff emerges from the other end.” How’s that for artsy, and more likely a solid indicator that we are on the anti-Catholic stink assembly line?
The 10-part HBO series is scheduled to conclude about now, before it goes into the black hole of endless streaming. Jude Law stars as American Lenny Belardo, archbishop of New York, who is elected pope and takes the name Pius XIII. He brings Diane Keaton as Sister Mary to Rome as his faithful companion, who raised him as her own (along with another future cardinal) after he was orphaned.
OK, so far just normally stupid.
But it gets worse. Much worse. Pope Lenny is, as Byrd describes him, a “jerk.” Addicted to Diet Cherry Coke, cigarettes and coffee, Pope Lenny makes a point of insulting the faithful (“I don’t know if you deserve me!” he warns in his first address as the new pope), and dismisses confession, though he does force a priest to break the seal of the confessional so he can get the goods on his fellow cardinals.
In another artsy moment, Lenny ends up in a staring contest with a kangaroo that he had received as a gift and released into the Vatican Gardens. In a drawn-out scene, he dons his papal vestments as the song “Sexy and I Know It” provides the background noise. Great.
In the words of a New York Times review, “The Young Pope” is a “pulpy, disjointed” art-house flop that is “slap-dash and underdeveloped.” According to Byrd, “The Young Pope” contains “strong, often gratuitous sexual content, nudity and profanity.” Of course it does.
The Italian director, Paolo Sorrentino, is the source and key writer of this stuff. The series makes clear that while Pope Lenny has his flaws, the real enemy is the Church as a whole. An atheist, Sorrentino creates a pope that probably doesn’t believe in God.
He does believe, however, in power, manipulation and self-absorption, which makes him a perfect pope for Sorrentino’s church.
Enough of that. The question is: Why? I don’t mean why some artiste-type would want to make such a series based on anti-Catholic rubbish. My “why” is to HBO. Why did HBO think there would be an audience for such slop? Who did they think would want to invest time from their lives to watch such pretentious drivel?
“The Young Pope” wins this classic assessment from “The Simpsons” Comic Book Guy: “Worst show ever!” Again: Who does HBO think will watch this?
Maybe the same people that picked up a book by Robert Harris released a few months back. Called “Conclave,” it’s about a fictional papal election.
SPOILER ALERT. I’m giving away here and now the big secret revealed in the last few pages of “Conclave.” The newly elected pope is a female who has lived as a male — thus being both a woman ordained as a priest and a transgender pope. Habemus papam, indeed.
Maybe not the worst book ever. But close.
Robert P. Lockwood writes from Indiana. Follow him on Twitter @BobPLockwood.