Brow Beat

Critics Can’t Decide Whether The Young Pope Is Supposed to Be Funny or Not

“Say what?”


We’re close enough to The Young Pope’s U.S. premiere on HBO that most observers have probably figured out that this is indeed a TV series and not just a meme of biblical proportions. But as to what kind of TV series? Not even the critics can help with that. Reviews have steadily rolled in over the past week, and the lack of consensus on what Pablo Sorrentino’s wild 10-hour project is exactly—beyond whether it’s good or not—is hilariously clear. Is it a bad comedy? A good drama? Something totally, insanely different? Read a roundup of the reviews below, and decide for yourself which (if any) is right on Sunday night.


Good Funny

Ben Travers, IndieWire:

Turns out, Sorrentino is in on the joke. The Young Pope is wickedly funny and deeply insightful.


Maureen Ryan, Variety:

The spontaneity rumbling through The Young Pope illuminates the unruly possibilities of human and spiritual connection, and its sly, deadpan wit is often a delight.

Matt Brennan, Paste:

The Young Pope … is a comedy, and nearly a great one.

Eric Thurm, Esquire:

Over the past few months, several of my friends have expressed surprise that The Young Pope is a real TV show, rather than a fake pitch on 30 Rock or, more likely, something I just made up. But The Young Pope is real, and it’s spectacular. The young pope wears a gleaming papal tracksuit, and has a pet kangaroo. In the show’s title sequence (not introduced until the third episode), he literally winks at the camera. And all of this is happening on HBO.


Bad Funny

James Poniewozik, the New York Times:

When The Young Pope is bad, it’s epically so—laughable, with histrionics and mustache-twirling and bombastic set pieces.

Dave Nemetz, TVLine:

Little quirks that might seem charming in a 90-minute movie can begin to grate across several episodes … Sorrentino’s scripts are spiked with surreal dream sequences, random flashes of nudity, and a strangely juvenile sense of humor. (Sister Mary sleeps in a T-shirt that says, “I’m a Virgin, But This Is an Old Shirt.”)


Kwame Opam, the Verge:

This character feels so tailor-made to be memed that in every other scene, it feels like he’s ready to have “Deal with it” shades descend upon him from on high. None of these qualities make sense, of course.


Mark Dawidziak, the Cleveland Plain Dealer:

It is drearily paced, choppy and often self-consciously bizarre … the frequent surrealistic touches and bizarre flights of Monty Python-like whimsy are decidedly hit and miss.

Not Funny

Hank Stuever, the Washington Post:


HBO’s new limited series The Young Pope (premiering Sunday) is among the strangest and most unsettling shows I’ve reviewed in several years—the morose story of an ice-blooded American cardinal, Lenny Belardo (Jude Law), who is chosen to be the next pope, even though he’s only in his 40s.

Robert Bianco, USA Today:

It’s also oddly airless and cold, more a series of striking pictures than a living and breathing slice of life, one that leaves you with no way in and little reason to care.


Mark A. Perigard, Boston Herald:

All The Young Pope proves is that absolute power is absolutely boring.

Kristi Turnquist, the Oregonian:

At times, Sorrentino’s approach is bracingly different. But many, many more times, The Young Pope leaves us alternating between admiring Sorrentino’s craft and wondering why this is so lugubriously paced and cryptically written.


Josh Bell, Las Vegas Weekly:

It’s often too straight-faced to be satirical … Every so often, Sorrentino (who directed and wrote or co-wrote every episode) breaks out an entertaining moment, like a swaggering montage of Lenny getting dressed in Pope finery set to LMFAO’s “Sexy and I Know It,” but then it’s right back to uninspired scheming and half-hearted musings on the existence of God.


Who the Hell Knows

Chris Cabin, Collider:

The Young Pope is TV’s equivalent of a dorm-room poster of Bob Marley blowing smoke or the Lenny Bruce mugshot: a depleted symbol of a radical reaction to society that finally most clearly represents the status quo.

Sophie Golbert, the Atlantic:

Sorrentino’s show is an intriguing mix of high and low art, combining the ambition and scale of a fiendishly expensive HBO drama with both the palette of an auteur and strong elements of trash.


Terry Terrones, the Colorado Springs Gazette:

[The Young Pope] doesn’t do a good job of balancing its many facets. For example, the identity of Lenny’s parents is a bit of a puzzle, one that haunts him in dreams and impacts his decisions as an adult. Then, in another segment, we see Lenny walking through the Vatican to a rendition of “All Along the Watchtower” with him winking at the camera. Say what?

Matt Zoller Seitz, Vulture:

The tone and pace are all over the map; The Young Pope is five or six shows in one, and not necessarily in a good way … This is, in many ways, one of the weirdest, most counterintuitive programs ever to get a green light from HBO.