Was it the kangaroo?
HBO’s critically acclaimed limited series “The Young Pope” failed to garner any nominations in the major categories despite delivering Jude Law’s best performance in years and a brilliant story and direction by Oscar winner Paolo Sorrentino. The wholly unique tale of a handsome American who becomes the pope was lauded for its beautiful, quirky and at times hilarious examination of faith, truth and the unknowable mysteries of life.
Law’s masterful performance as Lenny Belardo, an upstart American who wants to shake up the Catholic Church once he becomes Pope Pius XIII, was stunning in how he radiated strength and power even in stillness. Intimidating, inscrutable, morose, and at times whimsical, Law swept viewers up in Lenny’s inner journey that began with antagonism and ended in peace. The actor’s compelling acting landed him on IndieWire’s list of the Best TV Performances of 2017 (So Far), as the role wasn’t just about range, but tapping into an honesty of character that encompassed the mutable nature of one’s beliefs.
Similarly, Sorrentino kept everyone on their toes with his unusual tale that ranged from moments of heartbreaking loss and corruption to moments of sweetness or downright goofiness. Where else could you find a scene in which the Pope somehow marsupial-whispers a kangaroo?
Unfortunately, we can’t say that the nominations results are a complete surprise. Even though Sorrentino was fully in control of his unconventional story, never losing sight of the true thread of Lenny’s journey amidst the wackiness, some viewers didn’t know what to make of the show’s uniqueness, the very quality that made it so brilliant. This ambivalence began even before audiences watched the show and only heard the title “The Young Pope.” The name alone inspired a slew of memes that served to draw attention to the show but also mocked it.
Although Sorrentino and Law’s risk-taking didn’t pay off when it came to the bigger categories, at least the Academy was able to appreciate its visual virtues. “The Young Pope” earned two nominations, one for Outstanding Production Design for a Narrative Contemporary or Fantasy Program of fully inventing the inner parts of the Vatican that are inaccessible to the public; and another for Outstanding Cinematography for a Limited Series or Movie. The series completely upended the conventional rules of TV by using extreme contrasts to create drama and power.
“The Young Pope” had some tough competition though, including two fellow HBO series, “Big Little Lies” and “The Night Of,” both of which earned nods fin the Outstanding Limited Series category. Joining them are FX’s “Fargo” and “Feud: Bette and Joan” with National Geographic’s Albert Einstein biography series “Genius” rounding out the final slot. The other main categories in the Limited Series field played out similarly, with the HBO and FX series going to head to head with the stars of those shows flooding the field. “Big Little Lies” has five acting nominations, “The Night Of” has four, “Feud” has six, and “Fargo” has three. These same series also dominated the crafts categories.
In an era that is an embarrassment of TV riches, it’s a shame that something as rare and lovely as “The Young Pope” can’t break through. HBO has already committed to a sequel series, “The New Pope” by Sorrentino, which won’t even start shooting until 2018. But with a new pope comes new hope that recognition will come eventually for a show that was one of the true highlights of the year.