So, What Is The Young Pope Actually About?

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Jude Law, Diane Keaton, grapes. Photo: HBO

On January 15, The Young Pope will first grace HBO with its presence. The show stars Jude Law as, you guessed it, a pope who is younger than your average pontiff. This particular pope is an American named Lenny Belardo, though he adopts the papal name Pius XIII. The Young Pope also stars Diane Keaton as Sister Mary, the nun who raised Lenny, and it is created and directed by Italian filmmaker Paolo Sorrentino. You may have seen the Young Pope trailers on HBO, or perhaps read a few Young Pope jokes online. You still probably have no idea what the hell the show is about. Let us explain.

This pope is pretty young. Does that mean that he’s a cool pope?
No, Pope Pius XIII is a very serious pope. After his election, he decides to push the Catholic Church in an extremely conservative direction. He’s opposed to public appearances, he’s homophobic, and he cuts through the established Vatican power structure to pursue a murky agenda. Basically, he rules by fear. The cardinals entrenched in the traditional order of things, led by Cardinal Secretary of State Angelo Voiello (Silvio Orlando), are not happy about any of this.

So, what you’re telling me is that this pope does not have a bunch of sex.
That is correct.

Why is the pope so radical?
As a child, Lenny’s parents abandoned him and left him to be raised by nuns. One imagines that had quite an impact on his relationship with God.

How does Diane Keaton fit in?
She plays Sister Mary, the nun who raised Lenny and indoctrinated him into the ways of Catholicism. Keaton also wears some great transition lenses and, in a few scenes, a very funny T-shirt that I won’t reveal here. Also, Sister Mary is convinced that Lenny is blessed by God — and might be a saint.

Wait, is he actually a saint?
It’s certainly possible! At times, it seems that Lenny is making up everything as he goes and doesn’t care a whit about God. At other times, The Young Pope implies that he really could be on a holy mission. For quite a while, it’s not even clear how Lenny managed to be chosen among the other cardinals in the papal conclave. It very well could have been an act of God.

Enough God for now. What else happens?
There’s a lot of behind-the-scenes politicking. As Pius XIII consolidates his power, Voiello tries to undermine him without sacrificing his valuable position. As we quickly learn, few people in the church are as squeaky clean as they seem — and Vioello collects evidence of each sin to better control the Church. The Vatican, in this show’s imagination, pretty much seems to be run via blackmail.

Pope Pius XIII sounds vaguely Trump-ian.
An inexperienced leader who trusts only in himself and wins a surprise election to one of the most powerful positions on Earth, then vows to do away with established traditions, isolating himself from the people with divisive rhetoric? Nah, I don’t see the connection.

I thought this show was supposed to be fun. This doesn’t sound very fun.
A better word might be “opulent.” Paolo Sorrentino’s work often engages with the purpose and meaning of spectacle — see also: The Great Beauty — and The Young Pope is no different. The cinematography is gorgeous. Jude Law wears sumptuous hats. The soundtrack features LMFAO, among other musical gems. If you want to get a good sense of the show’s whole vibe, just keep an eye out for its opening credits sequence. It’s an all-timer.

This show is going to spawn a ton of memes, isn’t it?
To some, The Young Pope will just be a resource for good (and very bad) tweets. To others, it’ll be an incisive, melodramatic look at the Catholic Church. Perhaps you’ll think the whole thing is tedious and silly. Expect spirited debate after each episode.

Also, just FYI, the pope likes to drink Cherry Coke Zero.

No!
Yes.

I heard that some people have already seen The Young Pope.
The series premiered in Europe in October, and it’s a big hit in Italy. If you know anyone who’s seen it, they are: (1) living in Europe, (2) have access to advance screeners, or (3) pirating it online, which is illegal.

If the show premiered in Europe, was it not produced by HBO?
The Young Pope
was a joint production between HBO, the French channel Canal+, and Sky Atlantic, which airs the show in Britain, Ireland, and Italy. How continental!

Does the Vatican have anything to say about the show?
So far, nothing.
But if you tweet your Jude Law thoughts at @Pontifex, perhaps he will take notice.

HBO describes this show as a “limited series.” Are we only getting these first ten episodes?
Fear not, for The Young Pope has already been renewed for a second season.

Last question: How young is the Young Pope?
Pretty young! The show hasn’t revealed his exact age, but Pius XIII seems to be in his mid-to-late 40s. He may not be the youngest pope ever, but he’s certainly the youngest pope in centuries.

The Young Pope: What Is It Actually About?