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Monday, June 24, 2013

Da Vinci's Demons Review: The Adventures of Young Leonardo Jones.

Ambidexterity is so a super power.  You and your heat vision.
Starz is quite the hit and miss premium network. They have shows that seem to hold together from a distance, but if you look too closely, creatively they appear strung together with chewing gum and chicken wire. I mean sure, Spartacus did not suck, but I never went out of my way for it, and having your lead get hit by cancer and die? That's just a bad hand all around, and they stuck with it without seeming weird or callus. 8 Simple Rules couldn't pull that off. They kept at it, is my point, and that kind of workmanship will pay off eventually.

Which brings me to David S. Goyer's  Da Vinci's Demons and how it sucker punched me into loving it.  It's good. It is just flat out, a "good" show. If you are sick of the two year long strip teases from BBC's Sherlock like I was, D.V.D. is a welcome and satisfying amuse bouche. That's french for surprisingly well written and acted sexy action-adventure-mystery I'm pretty sure.

And it is all of those things. I mean, this should crash and burn while being insulting and trivial, but it doesn't and it isn't. It's fun, witty, well paced, and it knows where it's going. It juggles court intrigue, warfare, screwball comedy, and even tomb raiding with a deft and well funded hand. Sure, some aspects work better than others most of the time, but they all earn enough merit for the over arching story to matter.

"You know you were like, 60, when we first met right?"
 "Shh! I can't focus on drawing Lucrezia's side boob when you talk to me!"

This could have been so many different shows, and the amount of ground it covers in 8 episodes is commendable on it's own. I mean, I don't believe Di Vinci was ever a Medici spy trying to con Vlad the Impaler, but that doesn't stop DVD from being awesome pretending he did. I'm glad I only know the broad strokes of Da Vinci's biography. Like how Nico didn't factor in until much later in his life and that's about it.

If you fancy yourself an expert on the man I bet you've already written off this liberally ridiculous piece of historical fiction. Like I said, I don't believe Da Vinci invented the camera obscura in the 1400's, but I love the way DVD lies to me... and he could have, if you don't think about it. Seriously, you shouldn't think too hard about the historical logistics and instead focus on what the show does well. Which is the story, the script, and the characters. Buckle up, because I'm about lick so many actor's boots right now:

Tom Riley:

A show is usually only as good as it's lead and Tom Riley brings the pain. He's funny, eccentric, endearingly over dramatic, and does his damnedest never to play the same trick twice. Though his finger twitching may grind on your nerves if you binge watch it. He's the literal renaissance man a show like this would need to stay afloat. And he steers the helm well, even when it enters more questionable waters. Remember when I said Count Dracula shows up? That's a perfect example. You believe the world around him because he does...or his character does, who knows? Maybe there's some nutty Danial Day Lewis method under his hood. I don't care how Riley does it, he's seriously giving Cumberbatch's Sherlock a run for his money.

Laura Haddock

This is a "premium" show, so they know there's a built in audience for over produced soft core porn. So yeah, if all you want out of her character is a sex scene every other episode (or at least some causal nudity) you're going to get your money's worth, whilst making me very sad. Yes, she's part of a love triangle, yes her character takes some time to really get off the ground , and yes... her plot twists get pretty out there. But it's fun and in her capable hands, its also much more convincing than it would be if preformed by someone who was (and I hate this term) "just another pretty face."

Once her character has room to breathe after getting nestled comfortably into the Medici-Papal land war conspiracy, she shines. Her face in the last shot of the penultimate episode is brilliant. It's so haggard, yet surprised. It's the face of someone who thought they had nothing left to loose and then looses so much more. Its difficult to talk about her arc without spoiling things so just know she's worth it. DVD could have survived without such a three dimensional female character, but it wouldn't have been half as rich.

Blake Ritson

 Every good story needs a villain and Ritson fits the roll like it was personally tailored for him. He plays the sword arm of the pope and he's not afraid to swing it. On the contrary, he's only too happy to oblige. He may seem to be the quiet, plotting, sociopath that's gotten a wee bit overexposed these days and for the most part he is. But like all the other actors above, they find subtext in the material that may, or may not, exist and mine it for all it's worth. He's a perfect foil for Da Vinci and watching them pace around each other out scheming each other's schemes is the highlight of this season. He's a character that exits for a few episodes, just when you think you're getting tired of him, so you can steel yourself for the next game of cat and mouse.  

Should you watch Da Vinvi's Demons? I say yes. Its one of the most pleasant surprises of the year, and among Goyer's best work. I love it precisely because its actually a lot better than Goyer's films in certain ways. I never knew he had such endearing characters in him judging from his past with Christopher Nolan. He helped make great films to be sure, but there aren't a whole lot of fleshed out characters in the Nolanverse. Because Starz has given such a talented feature writer room to breathe in TV land, they now have an extra check next to their name in my mental journal. And I know I'll be in front of the tube next year with bells on to see what happens to the gang that season. I hope to see some of you out there.

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