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Movies & TV

08th Oct 2018

The creator of Mad Men has a new show and it might be one of the biggest projects that TV has ever seen

Rory Cashin

the romanoffs

We’ve seen the first few episodes. Here are our thoughts.

Heading into The Romanoffs, it is difficult to fully fathom what you’re about to watch.

The creator of Mad Men is back with an original creation, and the cast-list alone is staggering:

Man Men alumni Christina Hendricks, John Slattery, Cara Buono, and Jay R. Ferguson are joined by Aaron Eckhart (The Dark Knight), Diane Lane (Unfaithful), Isabelle Huppert (Elle), Amanda Peet (Identity), Jack Huston (Ben-Hur), Kathryn Hahn (Step Brothers), Noah Wyle (E.R.), Paul Reiser (Aliens), Andrew Rannells (Girls) and more besides.

The official synopsis doesn’t help much in figuring out what the show is actually about:

“The Romanoffs is a contemporary anthology series set around the globe featuring eight separate stories about people who believe themselves to be descendants of the Russian royal family.”

And then there was that trailer, which showed off the cast and the worldwide setting, but little else:

Clip via Prime Video

However, once you watch an episode, it all becomes clear why they needed to be so vague about it.

The first episode alone, titled The Violet Hour, is about the same length of a feature movie, as does the follow-up, The Royal We, both of which will be made available together, and will be followed each week by a new episode for six weeks, breaking with the usual format of allowing us to binge watch them all at once.

This new approach is probably for the best, as watching The Romanoffs is literally like watching a movie each and every week that are mostly connected by a character’s surname and little else. The opening episode is like a racism-fuelled version of a Disney princess story, but when we spoke to Matthew Weiner about the show, he told us that a later episode, The One That Holds Everything, is basically a Hitchcock thriller.

The Violet Hour kicks off with Marthe Keller as a hate-fuelled matriarch in Paris, with her nephew Aaron Eckhart and his girlfriend Louise Bourgoin putting in just enough face time with her to appear loving, but mostly just waiting for her to die so they can inherit her insanely opulent apartment. When he hires his aunt a new live-in cleaner (played by relative newcomer Ines Melab), who happens to be a Muslim, and this ignites a torrent of racial abuse from her new employer.

However, over the course of the episode, the two women learn to know each other a little better, each of their unique emotional barriers being broken down by their exact opposites. The follow-up episode finds a couple – Corey Stoll and Kerry Bishe – in a rut of a marriage, but both encounter new opportunities when she heads off on a cruise and he is enrolled for jury duty.

Both of the episodes are absolutely beautiful to look at, and filled with fantastic performances, with tiny links that may or may not only pay off once all eight episodes have been seen. The plots don’t always reflect back the talent though, with a sense that some of these episodes could have had their run-time cut in half and ended up twice as good.

It is a huge project that Weiner – creator, writer, and director of all eight episodes – has undertaken, the kind of gargantuan task that can only end in rapturous applause or Icarus-like failure. From the episodes made available to us so far, there is a bit of both in here, but the sheer confidence in the show makes sure that it is currently running closer to a success.

Make no mistake, this show isn’t for Mad Men fans and isn’t the “Rich White People Have Problems, Too” show that the trailer made it out to be. Instead, it is a multitude of people looking for their place in the world, and willing to do almost anything to find out where they belong.

It is timely, and while it might fall short of powerful, it is never less than entertaining.

The Romanoffs premieres on Amazon Video from Friday 12 October.

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