The Young Pope (series 1 and 2)

THE YOUNG POPE ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

THE NEW POPE (series 2) ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ 

Categorisation: Drama

Availability:  You will have to search for this in your region, possibly Hulu, Neon, SBS

Plot: Italian director, screenwriter and writer, Paolo Sorrentino, brought the extraordinary series The Young Pope to the screen in 2016. This was followed by its much awaited sequel, The New Pope, in 2020. Series 1 takes us into the Vatican where a young American cardinal, Lenny Belardo, is about to become Pope Pius XIII. The scheming cardinals responsible for his election are at first confident that they will be able to control the new pope. But soon they regret their lack of recruitment due diligence. It turns out the handsome young Pius XIII is brash, manipulative, cruel, ultra-conservative, funny, yet extremely difficult to like – at least in the first few episodes. Furthermore, he radiates sexuality. Even more disconcertingly for the conclave, he is bent on reform – but not of the progressive or enlightened kind. His road to universal godliness blazes with fire and brimstone as he exercises ubiquitous and unchecked papal power to achieve a newfound medievalism. The cardinals’ collective feathers are well and truly ruffled. But then, in a profoundly compelling analysis of faith and doubt, the series explores the essence of human fallibility, religious reverence and the enigma of the papacy. Series 2, The New Pope, also begins with a conclave, and after further missteps by the Holy See, they elect the aristocratic British cardinal and socialite Sir John Brannox, thus beginning the reign of Pope John Paul III. The new pope is wise, detached, joyless, ambivalently philosophical and a good deal older than his predecessor. Like Pius XIII though, he has his demons. Through his smudged mascara (an eccentricity the cardinals ought to have paid heed to), the melancholic Sir John eyes them distractedly whilst verbalising cerebral meanderings that set the scene for absurdities to come. Later, once Brannox is secured as pontiff, Pius XIII reappears, and everyone is forced to resolve how to manage two popes in the Vatican.

Cast: The acting throughout series 1 and 2 is outstanding. Jude Law is splendid as Lenny, the saintly sinner who is not sure he even believes in God. He is wild, menacing, and focused. At the same time, he is haunted by personal uncertainties. His successor, Sir John Brannox, played deliciously by John Malkovich, is indifferent, also plagued by wavering convictions and a complex and tragic history. But once installed in the Vatican he begins to take the job more seriously, at least in a languid John Malkovich sort of way. Silvio Orlando, as Cardinal Voiello, the Machiavellian Secretary of State, is nothing short of brilliant as he schemes to achieve his personal ambitions. Javier Cámara is excellent as Cardinal Bernardo Gutierrez, the wisest and most compassionate of all, but with his own self-loathing secrets. There are many splendid performances across the two series, but these four characters capture, in cleverly nuanced ways, the complexity of human fallibility, aspiring humanity, and the very essence of what it is to have faith.   

Filming and Setting: The cinematography is a major achievement in these two productions. The Vatican does not allow filmmakers within its walls, and so the production designer for the series, Ludovica Ferrario and her team recreated parts of the Vatican in Rome, including a full-scale replica of the Sistine Chapel and its antechamber, the spectacular Sala Regia. Great use was made of monumental buildings across Italy, and also the lush and beautiful gardens that can be found outside Rome. The results are truly extraordinary. At an estimated cost of $45 million, The Young Pope is Italy’s most expensive TV production. It is a sumptuous feast for the eyes.

Personal Comments: There has never really been a series anything like The Young Pope and its sequel – surreal, seductive, stylish, and often very funny. The productions are irreverent yet curiously respectful; humorous yet profoundly serious. The second series doesn’t quite have the focus and tightness of the first, meandering into subplots that undermine the central narrative of the series. But there is nevertheless something deeply fascinating about the Vatican and the men who control it. The characters are not particularly likeable in the first couple of episodes of the series, but if you persevere, and if you are able to roll with its overall weirdness, it is addictive. In fact, you may even need to go back for a second look. 


Rating :   ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

Categorisation: Murder mystery 

Availability: TVNZ on demand, ABC Freeview 

Plot: Directed by Irish filmmaker Dathaí Keane, Smother is a complicated family saga about a well-to-do County Clare couple, Val and Denis Ahern, and their three daughters, Jenny, Anna and Grace. It’s Val’s 50th birthday, and they are having a big party. For a multitude of reasons, it goes very badly. Secrets are exposed, tempers flare, and the next morning Denis’s body is found at the bottom of a nearby cliff. Determined to protect members of her family, Val does whatever she can to keep the Gardaí at bay. In a compelling whodunit, more and more family secrets tumble out, as motives are explored across enmeshed relationships.

Cast: Smother has a large cast. In fact, it’s useful to have an Ahern family tree handy to made sense of the blended family arrangements, particularly in the first episode when we are introduced to them en masse (see But as the series progresses, we get to know them all, along with their strengths and foibles, of which they have plenty. It’s a strong cast, with Dervla Kirwan in the lead as Val, the family matriarch. She spends most of her time digging up secrets and then smothering them as fast as humanly possible. The strong relationship dynamics she has with her daughters propels the action forward as she calms things here, and causes havoc there. There are strong performances from all three sisters, Seána Kerslake does an effective job playing Grace, manic one minute, then calmer when she gets back on her meds. Niamh Walsh as Jenny and Gemma-Lea Devereux as Anna are equally as good. Danish actor, Thomas Levin, as the much maligned Carl (and Val’s love interest), is let down by a rather forced and peculiar accent, but it doesn’t detract from the drama.

Filming and Setting: Filmed on location along the rugged west coast of Ireland, the series makes much of the area’s dramatic and beautiful scenery. The wild coastline is fabulous, dark, threatening and unpredictable, it engages with, and reflects, the emotional responses of the characters who are barely managing to hold things together. We see terrific small towns – Fanore with its gigantic limestone rock formations that are exposed at low tide, and the Ennistymon Cascades where the river gushes spectacularly over a wide ridge of rocks through the centre of the town. Moy House, a small coastal hotel they commandeered for the series, becomes the Ahern family home. It is gorgeous, and I have made a note of it should the prospect of travel ever come our way again. 

Personal Comments: This is a fast-moving and engrossing drama. If you like trying to work out a good whodunit, each episode gives you plenty of clues, red herrings, and cliff-hangers that will keep you guessing. Six episodes worth watching.

Post Mortem – No One Dies in Skarnes

Rating :   ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

Categorisation: Drama-comedy

Availability: Netflix

Plot: Post Mortem was directed by Harald Zwart (The Karate Kid) and Petter Holmsen (who also wrote the screenplay). It is a story of life, and death, in the small Norwegian town of Skarnes. But we soon realise this is no Anne of Green Gables story. The body of Live Hallangen, daughter of the local funeral director, is found near an old barn in the middle of an otherwise empty field. The police declare her dead and sends her body to the coroner. Then, at the plunge of the coroner’s scalpel, Live dramatically awakens. Quickly recovering, she starts experiencing life differently – she has a new hypersensitivity to sound, greater physical strength, and a disconcerting lust for blood. Somehow, she’s just not the same old Live. As she struggles to come to grips with increasingly disturbing vampire tendencies, her brother, Odd, is coping with his own troubles. The family funeral parlour business is on the brink of bankruptcy. No one dies in Skarnes, and that has serious implications for undertakers…unless, of course, a sister’s changing temperament can save the family business!

Cast: Brilliantly engaging the art of dark humour, the cast of Post Mortem is outstanding.  Katherine Thorborg Johansen is terrific as Live. Her expressions of shock, horror, surprise and discombobulation are impressive. Elias Holmsen Sørensen as her brother Odd, is also first-rate. He brings a good-heartedness and a charming naivety to his part – an excellent counter to his sister’s increasingly alarming behaviour. Many of the funniest scenes though, involve the police. Andrée Sørum is great as the earnest young policeman who has an unfortunate crush on Live. But best of all, is Kim Fairchild as the police boss, Judith. Helped by some of the funniest lines in the series, her comic timing is perfect.

Filming and Setting: The series is set in Skarnes, a small town in the Innlandet county of Norway (population 2,456). Filmed at the beginning of the Nordic winter, the cinematography takes full advantage of the stark and beautiful landscapes. The cold forensic environment of the coroner’s laboratory and the old-fashioned funeral home preparation room are bleak. Colours of white and grey are juxtaposed with the reds of the bloody scenes as Live discovers her new appetites. The soundtrack is worth a mention. The 1950s banjo music in particular rattles along, never letting us forget that humour rests at the heart of this series. I don’t know a lot about Nordic music, but it is interesting that Øystein Sunde, the Norwegian musician and banjo player, grew up in Skarnes, so it might be a nod to a famous old-boy.

Personal Comments: Before you dismiss Post Mortem as an unwelcome return of a vampire genre, you need to know that this is most definitely a drama-comedy. And indeed, it’s a very clever and well executed one. We’ve seen Scandinavian playfulness with genres before, for example the very funny crime spoof Fallet ( This one is similar, but with an intriguing funeral parlour setting that brings a melancholic edge to the drama. If you give it a try, you might just find yourself hooked.

Netflix Official Trailer: