The Romanoffs: Matthew Weiner's show is no Mad Men but has the charm of traditional television
Watching television has changed in the last few years. Gone are the days when you would await the next episode and eagerly discuss what happened with others. Today, in an era where you 'drop' a trailer, the only way is to 'binge-watch' an entire season. For the classicists out there, the charm of the television of yesteryear is completely lost. This is one reason why Matthew Weiner's new series The Romanoffs sounds so inviting. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that the final episodes of Mad Men and Breaking Bad perhaps marked the end of television as we knew it and therefore, a new experience from the creator of Mad Men is like a homecoming.
An anthology, The Romanoffs could be best described as a show "set around the globe, centering on separate stories about people who believe themselves to be descendants of the Russian royal family". On the face, there is a lot to criticise in The Romanoffs and the idea that it’s perhaps a tad too self-indulgent makes it more defenseless. However, that could be attributed to Weiner becoming bigger than the medium somewhere. Shot over three continents on a budget of $50 million with a cast that comprises practically the who’s who of talent — Aaron Eckhart, Amanda Peet, Diane Lane, Kathryn Hahn, Noah Wyle, and Mad Men alumni Christina Hendricks and John Slattery — The Romanoffs is luscious, to say the least. Every single episode is treated as a standalone film, after all, each episode is nearly 90 minutes long, and this makes The Romanoffs a throwback to classic television. Before ‘binge-watching’ had become the norm, it would be too much to watch a few episodes back-to-back as they would extract too much from the viewer. The pace with which television films or specials played out, one needed a gap in between to let it all sink in.
Until a few years ago, most Indian viewers were probably not used to binge-watching shows on TV; you either saw them once a week or waited long enough to lay your hands on a bootleg DVD or download the episode the moment it debuted in the United States. Weiner seems too old-school enough to not overload your senses; Amazon Prime Video debuted two episodes and you had to log in every week to catch the next one.
In the first episode called The Violet Hour, Weiner takes the viewer to Paris where an ancestral home holds the key to a family’s future. The episode features Anastasia La Charnay (Marthe Keller), an ageing member of the aristocracy coming to terms with the new world, thanks to her interaction with her Muslim caregiver, Hajar (Inès Melab), who falls for the dubious yet effective charm of Anastasia’s nephew Greg (Aaron Eckhart). Greg’s an American in Paris living with his girlfriend, Sophie (Louise Bourgoin) and is waiting for his aunt to will the house to him.
There is enough drama that ensues - Greg and Hajar end up sleeping together; but for Weiner, it’s all about building the characters. It’s not as organic or languid as Mad Men. Perhaps because we must accept nothing will ever be like Mad Men. The Romanoffs is a sprawling production with Amazon sparing no expense and truth be told, Weiner deserves such creative liberty. It is said that creativity needs to harnessed but unbridled freedom can often spell doom - remember how Michael Camino’s Heaven’s Gate not just brought down a studio, United Artists, but also ended the reign of the director. Weiner extracts great performances but is that enough? There is no way that Weiner could top Mad Men the same way David Chase wouldn’t be able to shake off the ghost of The Sopranos; Vince Gilligan will always carry the burden of Breaking Bad and Jerry Seinfeld would always be Seinfeld.
Similarly, if you approach The Romanoffs thinking it would somehow be Mad Men all over again then you would be disappointed. But if you approach it with no baggage, you might just enjoy the old-fashioned television.
Updated Date: Nov 10, 2018 16:19 PM