The premise of The Yung Pope, which has only officially begun its Machiavellian reign on our Sunday evenings despite having already been memed to death, is that there is a pope … but he's fuckin' hot!!!! Do you see? Do. you. see? If we can at the very least breach this startling, forbidden barrier together, swallow this previously unimaginable contradiction — a pope who is young, and fuckin' hot, but remember, still a pope, OK? — we can move forward.
The first episode begins as all shows that represent mindfucking paradigm shifts should: with a naked baby crawling over a heap of other naked (dead?) fake babies, crushing them beneath his sticky palms. Every baby for himself, as I always say. A pile of questionably dead fake babies is just a roadblock on the path to ... hmm, still workshopping this one.
So the Yung Pope himself crawls out from beneath the hill of catatonic children. He strolls through the exact same walkin'-on-water-bathed-in-twinkly-lights set piece from Youth. Did you think we wouldn't notice, Paolo Sorrentino, you butt-cheeky rascal?! And while we're chatting, Paolo, what's with this youth fetish? You're only 46, my man! You've got a solid four years left until you need to start making repetitive, slightly clichéd, elegiac references to your looming mortality.
Anyway, it was all a dream, so forget about it, we have to start over. The Yung Pope, he's just like us: He awakens to the dull shriek of his iPhone. As we all do, he puts on his morning Havaianas, walks past his various Suffering Jesus sculptures, brushes his teeth, shows his butt twice, puts on his pope kippah and his pope scarf, and pope-walks to work, where he is a pope. (Now might be a good time to share that I am a Jewess who knows very little about the structure or rituals of the Catholic Church.)
Everybody, including me (above), is waiting for somebody on this show to speak a single word out loud. The plebes stand silently in the Roman rain. The pope strolls silently about his pope palace, nodding at nuns and cardinals alike, thinking of silent naked women in silent fields. There is a watercooler. It, too, is silent. But ...! O, my mind is uneasy. Why a watercooler ... in such a sacred space? Why this signifier of modern-day convenience and economy … in this holy room of the famously anti-watercooler lord?
You know why. It's because of ...
Our young protagonist, who's not really THAT young, if we're all being real — he's probably around Paolo Sorrentino's age (which, again, is not yet old enough to freak out, stop freaking out, Paolo), but also not young enough to be like, "I'm young," though definitely young enough to call oneself a young pope, but also, can you imagine a fortysomething woman being described as a "young" anything????
— reveals himself to the sweaty, drenched crowds below. The sun comes out, because Jesus, and the Yung Pope screams, "Ciao, world!" BRB, changing my email signature.
The Yung Pope begins with a vaguely Trumpian speech, appealing to the narcissistic instincts of the unwashed masses. "God leaves no one behind!" he roars. "We have forgotten you!" Then he veers sharply left, into the nightmare zone of every alt-right neo-Nazi with a Pepe tattoo and a deep hunger for their father's love: "We've forgotten to masturbate! We've forgotten to get abortions! We've forgotten that we have the right to decide when and how we die! We've forgotten to let priests love one another! We've forgotten that to repeal the ACA is to sentence millions of innocent Americans to their deaths! We've forgotten that the American president-elect is an empty Putinian vessel undermining the last remaining safeguards between democracy and fascism!" We love it, Paolo, you crazy old Maurice!
Except, goddammit (I say that here because I, too, am a young and irreverent pope), it's a dream again. Paolo, we get it. The Yung Pope is stressed and no amount of youth and fuckin' hotness can change that.
All right. The Yung Pope — who, it should be said here, is named Lenny Belardo, the least papal and least fuckin' hot name ever — is awake now, for real, probably. He is explaining himself to his pope therapist. "I'm a contradiction," he says. "For example, I am wearing a pope kippah, but it's red, which is the color of sexy danger." The pope therapist nods.
The Yung Pope tells a plate of fruit that he is the pope. He sits down for a breakfast of Cherry Coke Zero in a knockoff of Diane Keaton's outfit from The First Wives Club.
The Yung Pope is unduly cruel to his personal chef, a jolly Italian woman who just wants to make him some pasta e fagioli. The mind reels at the prospect of being cruel to a person whose sole desire is to make pasta for you, at the idea of turning down a plate of fresh bagels to sip on ice-cold aspartame. But that is the way of …
A group of equally jolly cardinals, some in pope kippahs and one in the hat that Helena Bonham Carter wears in A Room With a View, are standing in a beautiful garden. They're debating whether the Holy Spirit himself chooses the pope, and explaining that the Yung Pope is, in fact, young. "He's 47 years old," says Helena Bonham Carter. "That's young." (Again, yes and no.) The cardinals disagree over whether Lenny Belardo is the best pope, him being so young and all. "He's just a telegenic puppet," complains Helena Bonham Carter. The black cardinal, who has only referenced being African three times in one minute, adds, "I may be African, and I may be naïve," and I lose consciousness for a few minutes.
Elsewhere, in a tiny bathroom, James Cromwell is trying to kill himself. A group of nuns stop him. He cries on the toilet. In an earlier analysis of the trailer, I thought this scene was James Cromwell having a painful poo. Sorry, James Cromwell. But for good measure:
The Yung Pope has no sins. Which must be nice. He asks Don Tommaso, who receives all the confessions of the Vatican City elite, how old he is, because age is the most important virtue on this show. Don Tommaso explains that he's not, like, suuuper old; his only real problem is that his hair hurts. "Your hair hurts?" asks the Yung Pope. "Good." The stomach turns at the prospect of a holy man who takes pleasure in the follicular pain of his elders. But you get what you get and you don't get upset when you elect ...
Cardinal Voiello (I only know these people's names because of IMDb, please do not mistake me for an informed or coherent viewer) is fantasizing about a chunky statue and his own legacy. He's interrupted by another old (read: not young) dude informing him that the Yung Pope has blown him off to go to a helipad, which is a classic American scamp move. It is revealed that nobody trusts the pope because he is (1) young, (2) American, (3) a scamp, and (4) does not eat, not even pasta e fagioli. Not even carbonara!!!!!
The Yung Pope's helipad is, inexplicably, next to a children's park. The children are blown hither and thither by the helicopter. Paolo wants us to understand something important: Being young sometimes sucks.
Diane Keaton, drowning in the sort of role she has been actively resisting in one way or another her entire career, exits the helicopter. Her presence in this show is inexplicable. Diane? what? are you? doing here?
As an obviously miserable Diane Keaton stalks toward the camera, she cues a flashback to when the Yung Pope was even Yunger, a Yung Orphan dropped off on her church doorstep with ... a shoehorn? What is that? Anyway, Diane Keaton is Sister Mary, the Yung Pope's de facto mother, which explains why he is dressing like her First Wives Club character.
Diane Keaton greets the Yung Pope with a kiss on the hand and calls him a saint. No, Diane. He is the Yung Pope. Please do not fuck this up for us. The Yung Pope moves Diane Keaton into an apartment mere feet from his ... throne? That seems healthy and fine. Diane proceeds to give the Yung Pope an extremely intense lecture about his papal responsibilities superseding his personal traumas. "From now on, you are no longer Lenny Belardo, the man with the least fuckable name on this godforsaken planet," she says. "From now on, you are Pope Pius XII, the Yungest Pope this bitch has ever seen."
The Scamp-Ass Pope is finally meeting with Cardinal Voiello. It does not go well. The two first clash over their humor philosophies (are jokes just jokes or are jokes revelations of mal-intent? hehe), then over the Yung Pope's Staples Easy Button next to his desk, then over when he will give his Yung Pope speech, then over whether Voiello will make him a cup of "American coffee" (coffee that doesn't give a FUUUUUUUCK), and, finally, over whether it is chill or not for Diane Keaton to be the pope's chief adviser and Voiello's "guardian angel." (Yes, because there's a new pope now, baby!!!)
It is here, during this tense battle of wills, that everything is crystallized for you, viewer who has thus far been like, "Wait, so … is this a normal pope?" Lenny Belardo is not a normal pope. This pope will not do things like bless inanimate objects and kiss poor people's heads and make them rich (this is my understanding of papal responsibilities). This pope is going to spitefully drink calorie-free cherry colas in the face of pasta e fagioli, smoke up in holy rooms, question the natures of time and language and tradition to serve his own interests, wear tiaras, and place his friends in powerful positions in the White House — I mean pope palace. This pope is Donald Trump, but attractive. But what else should we have expected, after all? How could this pope be normal, if he is also ...
All the Yung Pope wants to do today is pray beneath a statue of a mom holding her headless, nearly nude adult son, nothing to see here, what? He kicks everybody out of the Basilica so he can do so in peace. "I will never shed my aversion to tourists," he tells the monsignor, whom he has inexplicably decided to treat with some level of humanity. The two proceed to shit-talk the entire human race, but it's OK, because Jesus. The Yung Pope explains that nobody can get anything past him because his mind is a Gap. "I have at least 12 different styles of jean jacket in there, each only infinitesimally different from its neighbor," he says. The monsignor swallows hard, terrified.
Nighttime at the pope palace. James Cromwell is drinking. Voiello is scheming his little tush right off. "I need to know, who was Lenny Belardo?" he asks, uh, Federico. "I want you to figure out his past sins, because he'll sin again, and I want to be the first to know about it. Power is all about being the first person to know something." Hmm, clearly Voiello is not familiar with the Ballad of TMZ.
Up on the roof, Yung Pope is being his scamp-ass self, peer-pressuring cutie-pie Tommaso into telling him everybody's confessions. Tommaso is like, "Nooooooo, my little hairs hurt, please!" Yung Pope promises him a cardinalship and gives him a rundown of God's Big Dipper House, which is half of a duplex with a private pool and one of those hand dryers that's been converted into a hair dryer, because who has the time? Tommaso tells him that the main goss at the pope palace is that everybody is like, "What the fuck is up with this young-ass pope?"
The Yung Pope explains to Tommaso that his major skills are (1) being wise, (2) confounding everybody, (3) being irritable, (4) being vindictive, (5) having a prodigious memory, and (6) not believing in God, LOLLLLLLLL. Tommaso's hair begins to hurt. "I'm JK about that last one," says the Yung Pope.
But the thing is — you know what the thing is, don't you? The thing is, he is not JK. He is …