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TV Review: The Romanoffs

SYNOPSIS:  Created, written, directed and executive produced by nine-time Emmy award winner Matthew Weiner (Mad Men), featuring eight separate stories about people who believe themselves to be descendants of the Russian royal family. Set in seven countries around the globe, The Romanoffs was shot on location in three continents collaborating with local productions and creative talent across Europe, the Americas, and the Far East.

The Romanoffs, TV Series, TV Review, Amazon Prime, Matthew Weiner, Corey Stoll, Christina Hendricks, John Slattery, Jack Huston, Aaron Eckhart

REVIEW: A family of Russian royalty are gathered together in a palacial room full of portraits. They then make their way to a sparsely decorated room where they are brutally gunned down. As their blood spills across a floor covered in photographs, the late Tom Petty's classic song "Refugee" rocks out. This is the violent and sudden title sequence for Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner's highly anticipated new series, The Romanoffs. Consisting of eight standalone episodes loosely connected by the titular aristrocratic family, Weiner's new series is an intriguingly messy project that is less like a TV series and more a collection of feature film experiments. With a massive cast of talented actors including Corey Stoll, Aaron Eckhart, Christina Hendricks, Diana Lane, Paul Reiser, Amanda Peet, Noah Wyle, John Tenney, Ron Livingston, Jack Huston, Clea DuVall, and Radha Mitchell, The Romanoffs is absolutely nothing like Mad Men and that is a good thing.

The Romanoffs as a family carry a lengthy and tumultuous history since the fateful night in 1918 that Tsar Nicholas and his family were executed and has led to a hundred years of people around the world claiming to be descended from that line. From that jumping off point, Weiner's series drops in with various people who claim that connection. This fact is sometimes integral to the plot of an episode and other times it is arbitrary. This does not diminish the quality of the story being told, but it does not always work. But it also does not seem clear if Matthew Weiner really cares about the thematic connection of these stories but needed some excuse to tie them together as an anthology series. Over the first episodes made available for review, the tone and style of each episode is widely varied and not everyone may be a fan of each story.

The series premiere, titled "The Violet Hour", is primarily filmed in French with French-speaking actors. Set in Paris, it tells the story of Anushka (Marthe Keller), whose beautiful apartment and heritage are supposedly linked to the Romanoffs. She is a very conservative woman who leans on her nephew, Greg (Aaron Eckhart) and his girlfriend Sophie (Louise Bourgoin). When Anushka and her new Muslim caregiver, Hajar (Ines Melab), begin their relationship it has effects for everyone involved. This episode looks and feels like the type of foreign film you often see playing at art house cinemas and festivals and predominatly works thanks to the great performances from Keller and Melab. While the Romanoff angle does work here, the somber tone of the entire episode feels nothing like the one that follows.

In "The Royal We", Kerry Bishe (Halt and Catch Fire) and Corey Stoll (ANT-MAN) are a couple struggling through marriage counseling. Stoll's Michael Romanoff is meandering through his life while Bishe's Shelly is trying to be happy with what she has. When Michael gets called for jury duty, he becomes enamored with the sultry Michelle (Janet Montgomery). Shelly then attends a Romanoff-themed cruise where she meets Ivan (Noah Wyle). The decisions put in front of these characters goes from serious to humorous all within a matter of minutes, culminating in a final act that is both heartbreaking and unexpected. Stoll delivers a great performance, as usual, while Bishe remains one of the more underrated actresses working today as this episode tricks you into thinking one character may be more central than the other.

The Romanoffs, TV Series, TV Review, Amazon Prime, Matthew Weiner, Corey Stoll, Christina Hendricks, John Slattery, Jack Huston, Aaron Eckhart

The third episode provided for review "House of Special Purpose" has the most direct link to the Romanoffs but is also the most interconnected entry in the anthology. Starring Christina Hendricks, Isabelle Huppert, Jack Huston, Mike Doyle and Paul Reiser, it is also the entry that feels at all similar to Weiner's work on Mad Men thanks to the plot involving a film production. While also running about the same length as a feature film, "House of Special Purpose" feels more like an episode of a television series than the more movie-like entries that came before it. Without revealing anything of the plot, this episode is probably going to be the one that convinces you to give the rest of the series a chance if you were not convinced by the first two stories.

The Romanoffs is definitely not your traditional series nor is it what you would expect from the trailers released thus far. It is packed with talented actors doing some really excellent work and the filmmaking from Matthew Weiner (who helmed all eight entries in the season) is a step above what he has done to this point. I still cannot help but feel the thematic link of the Romanoff aristocratic line is the weakest element of the series. It never feels wholly integrated in the first two episodes while the third is less an exploration of the individuals claiming their heritage and more of a look at the spectres of the past and how they can haunt the present. WHile the theme doesn't work as well at it could have, there is more than enough originality and great acting here to make this a series to check out.

The Romanoffs premieres October 12th on Amazon Prime.

Source: JoBlo.com

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