The New Pope tries and falls short of capturing the magic of its predecessor

Paolo Sorrentino’s sequel series The New Pope fails to captivate the same allure of its predecessor, The Young Pope, making it a recycling bin of the art house mise-en-scéne.


Pedro Barragan, Arts Reporter

Neon lights, pop music, and dancing nuns. This is what consists of the titles to Paolo Sorrentino The New Pope.

A sequel to 2017’s The Young Pope, Sorrentino’s series acts more as an extended film in the veins of Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s Berlin Alexanderplatz. Like other filmmakers who herd to TV, The New Pope takes place after its events. After Pope Pius XIII (aka Lenny Boraldo) is comatose, Vatican officials haste to find a new pope. They find an option in the very liberal and eyeliner-wearing John Brannox (played by John Malkovich). Under his rule, the Vatican finds itself caught in corruption and political turmoil.

Sorrentino’s original series was something unexpected, presenting itself as lavish yet hilarious with its Fellini-like circus caricatures of clergymen and women who roam the Vatican, complimented with the “bad boy” vibe from Jude Law’s middle-aged pope. What Sorrentino achieved with the first installment was a series that has rules set in its world without dumping the morals of the religious institution it portrays. In the first series viewers are aware that a deity does indeed exist, but its presence is more like the eagles in the Lord of the Rings. We know they’re in this world, but they aren’t treated like the center of the universe by its storyteller.

The New Pope on the other hand is supposed to be the dark sequel, its Empire Strikes Back, and has characters from the first series show their dark sides in the absence of its former lead (who is hinted to return). But the original installment’s dark side wasn’t its strongest suit, and seeing how Sorrentino’s sequel solely relies on those aspects presents an unattractive weakness.

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Viewers were aware of the vices and corrupt underbelly of the Vatican’s inhabitants from the first series, but it had the spark that was Jude Law’s Lenny in every second, a punk rock soul seeking to maintain the stature of the Catholic church.

In the most recent season, we’re shown what these religious officials do when such a force like Jude Law’s Lenny isn’t present. Like standout Silvio Orlando’s Cardinal Voiello, the second most powerful person in the Vatican who takes cynical and cold tactics to maintain what he believes to be the Catholic Church’s rightful way. In the original installment, Belardo would challenge him and call him out for the wretched character he is, but revealed his human side. In The New Pope Voiello only seeks to maintain power and keep whoever manages to be in the papacy in his pocket.

The New Pope may be another example of a filmmaker lured into television’s aspect of a continuing story, but like Jane Campion’s Top of the Lake: China Girl, it continued a story that didn’t require revisiting. It’s another example of a filmmaker failing to understand how television is a character driven medium.

There’s an amazing sequence in The Young Pope where Law’s protagonist is listening to an Italian pop album gifted to him by the Prime Minister of Greenland. The camera to turn and show the young and gorgeous political official dances to the track in hazel lit room in the Vatican as subtitles appear mentioning minor facts about her country. It’s whimsical, reminiscent of the seductive yet cute presence of Anna Karina. Yet in The New Pope we get multiple sequences at the end of each episode, not nearly as weird or stunning as what its predecessor.