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Series / The Young Pope

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The Young Pope is a Mini Series directed by Paolo Sorrentino, starring Jude Law and Diane Keaton. It is produced by HBO, Sky Atlantic, and Canal+, and premiered on October 21, 2016.

It features a fictional Pope, Pius XIII (born Lenny Belardo), the first pope from the United States of America, elected in his late forties, taking up the quest of revolutionizing the Church while he's fighting his own personal crisis of faith.

The miniseries got a sequel (or second season?) in the same format, The New Pope, which premiered in January 2020.


This series provides examples of:

  • The Alcoholic: Monsignor Gutierrez, which Cardinal Voiello uses for blackmail.
  • All Just a Dream: The very opening scene, where Lenny dreams about making an address after being elected Pope. It quickly reveals itself as a Nightmare Sequence.
  • Anonymous Ringer: The previous pope is never mentioned by name. He is, instead, referred to as "the predecessor of Pius XIII".
  • Anti-Hero: Lenny is a very complicated person and has many flaws that drive most of his actions. The viewer is not expected to agree with him on much of anything, but he's still sympathetic.
  • Artistic License – History: Promotional materials for the show describe Lenny, who's 47, as the youngest pope in history. In reality, he would only be the youngest pope in almost 500 years, since Pope Clement VII. There were also several popes in their twenties or younger during the nadir of the papacy in the 10th and 11th centuries.
  • Beauty Equals Goodness: Subverted and discussed.
    • Lenny admits to weaponizing the trope. He hides his appearance to create an aura of mystery about him, knowing that the first time he shows his face, people will be entranced by his angelic good looks and follow whatever he says no matter their previous opinion of him.
    • Voiello is a short, pudgy, balding man with a gigantic mole on his cheek who is introduced as an egotistical manipulator opposing our main character Lenny, teasing him as a villain. He later not only joins forces with Lenny but proves to be a much more moral and sympathetic person than he appeared.
  • Being Personal Isn't Professional: In the first episode, Lenny insists on having a strictly professional relationship with all of his staff and fires a cook who is too friendly. He then spends the rest of the show contradicting that rule, most notably in the very same episode when he makes his surrogate mother, Sister Mary, his primary advisor. In the final episode, he calls all of his staff together and tearfully tells them that he loves them all.
  • The Caligula: Lenny fits the bill in most accounts when he first ascends to the papacy, with the notable exception of sexual debauchery or personal indulgence (unless you count cigarettes or Cherry Coke Zero). The pettiness, autocracy and psychological instability are all present and accounted for, however, and he gets about as close to A God Am I as you can get without blaspheming.
  • Camp Straight: Lenny sometimes comes across as this due to his somewhat androgynous mannerisms, it doesn't help that Lenny is more than willing to use his beauty and sex appeal to manipulate both men and women equally.
  • Catchphrase: "I was joking" for Lenny, using it each time he confuses people with his statements or confessions.
    • Lenny also frequently uses "I want to be very clear with you" and many variations thereof.
  • Celibate Hero: Lenny is so devoted to his vows of celibacy that many suspect he is asexual, however it is revealed that he briefly had a romantic relationship with an American girl as a teenager.
  • Chick Magnet: Andrew Dussolier
  • Childhood Friends: Lenny and Andrew, who were raised together by Sister Mary.
  • Corrupt Church: Notably subverted. The Catholic Church is portrayed in all its complicity, but at the same time, issues like homosexuality, pedophilia, and power games among the clergy are addressed as wrong and something that needs to be dealt with. By the clergy itself, while their new pope just scoffs this off as semi-important at best.
    Cardinal Voiello: When?
    Pius XIII: Later.
  • Costume Porn: Whole scenes are dedicated to Lenny trying on his opulent ceremonial pope vestments. Most of the main characters are high-ranking clergymen wearing elaborate clerical outfits.
  • Dark and Troubled Past: Monsignor Gutierrez who was sexually abused as a child and uses alcohol as a way to cope. It's one of the reasons Pius sends him to New York to deal with Archbishop Kurtwell.
  • Depraved Homosexual: Subverted with Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy, who is very much Straight Gay, and more importantly, with no scandals and no known sexual relationships, but still admits his sexual orientation when asked about it. Of course, that technically makes him unfit for his line of work anyway, but the show itself supports the view that this is unfair and outdated.
  • Depraved Lesbian: Sister Antonia withholds water from her community, looks the other way regarding the local warlord, and accepts sexual favors from her female followers.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: The drug lord killing Dussolier for sleeping with his wife. Ironically, according to the Old Testament, it would be lawful for him to kill both.
  • Double Subversion: It's heavily implied in the title, and with Lenny’s background, he could be a very liberal pope, despite having a notoriously conservative mentor. Then he turns out to be so extremely conservative that the more traditional members of the church start looking like moderates.
  • Driven to Suicide:
    • Cardinal Spencer who was supposed to be the new pope, not his pupil. He is stopped by a group of nuns.
    • A young man commits suicide after being denied entry to seminary.
  • Eagleland: Lenny is a cocky, smug, prideful, and outright reactionary person, acting in the most shortsighted way imaginable and always trying to use his authority to get things done his way. As a cherry topping, he also starts each day with a can of Cherry Coke Zero and is offended by the possibility of having anything else for a breakfast. Cardinal Spencer, who basically trained him as his protegee, takes it a step further, being extremely rude to everyone when things don't go as he envisioned - he goes as far as spitting grape seeds when talking with the pope.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: The mob not punishing Dussolier's replacement for denying eucharist for drug lords and weddings for their daughters.
  • Fatal Flaw: Lenny is extremely vindictive and arbitrary, making sure to harm everyone who he doesn't like or is resentful towards.
  • Freudian Excuse: The story frequently refers to Lenny’s emotional baggage regarding his orphan status as forming the basis for a lot of his actions.
  • Gainax Ending: After an emotionally draining episode, the final shot of episode 4 is of the Prime Minister of Greenland dancing to an Italian record while facts about Greenland appear in subtitles at the bottom of the frame.
  • Good Adultery, Bad Adultery: In contrast with pretty much every other case of adultery in the show, the past one between Esther and Father Valente is portrayed sympathetically. Predominately due to being all about her getting more and more desperate with attempts to get pregnant.
  • Good Girls Avoid Abortion: Discussed. Lenny strongly opposes abortion and believes the church should oppose it wholeheartedly, while Cardinal Michael Spencer believes only the termination of late-term pregnancies counts as abortion. It's revealed that this issue is Close to Home for Lenny since his mother abandoned him at an orphanage.
  • Grumpy Old Man: Despite being only 47, Lenny plays this trope to a T. He himself admits orphans are never young.
  • He Who Must Not Be Seen: Lenny invokes this on himself. Until the last episode.
  • Heel–Face Revolving Door: Cardinal Spencer, who alternates between being vindictive and petty to Lenny, to practically begging to be part of his counsel. After being passed over to be chosen as Pope, he tries to commit suicide and tells Lenny he'll be the worst Pope in history and will go down in infamy.
  • Heteronormative Crusader: Lenny, who conflates homosexuality with pedophilia. It seems to be the biggest issue he chooses to focus on, as he wants to force out any gay priests from the Catholic Church. Somewhat ironic, considering some of the figures closest to him are not straight, like Dussolier and Gutierrez. By the end of the series, it seems like he might soften up, considering he chooses Gutierrez to be his personal secretary.
  • Hidden Depths: Lenny hides his true feelings most of the time.
  • Hypocrite: A defining feature of Lenny. He rails against mixing personal and professional relationships, then does just that. He tries to purge gays from the priesthood but keeps a gay priest as one of his closest confidantes. He tells the world that faith in God is the only thing they should concern themselves with, yet grapples with his own faith. He talks a lot about love but often seems only interested in punishment.
  • Hotter and Sexier: The show was marketed this way, attention is frequently drawn (often by Lenny himself) to how handsome Lenny is, and there are a handful of sex scenes — but, interestingly, Lenny himself is a devotedly celibate virgin. Lenny markets himself this way, oftentimes comparing his own, supposedly magnetic appearance to Jesus.
  • Ironic Fear: The pope frequently scares internal Catholic Church members into submission by describing to them what life would be like without the perks they enjoy. Oftentimes, the environment he describes is a modern take of the environment Jesus rose up from.
  • Ironic Name: Pope Pius XIII. Thirteen is also the number commonly associated with Judas, Jesus’ betrayer.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: Both Cardinal Voiello and Spencer have their moments of outbursts (especially Spencer), but their reasoning is always right. Lenny can't just come in, make a revolution and expect everyone will fall in line, since he threatens the very existence of the Church with his petty, often childish behavior.
  • "Just Joking" Justification: Used repeatedly by Lenny. He will often say something extremely rude or upsetting and then claim to be joking. It's not always clear if he's being intentionally manipulative or just socially awkward.
  • Light Is Not Good: Lenny dresses almost exclusively in white (not only his papal robes, but also the tracksuit he wears while going out as a King Incognito), and the outdoor scenes are almost all bright, lush, and summery. None of this dispels the deep sense of spiritual corruption running the Vatican itself.
  • Likes Older Men: Freddy, a young gay man who appears to be exclusively attracted to older men, like Gutierrez.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: Lenny apparently performs at least three miracles, all of which could be explained in a secular fashion as well.
    • As a teenager, he prays over a dying woman, who then miraculously recovered. This is told in flashback, making it a possible case of Unreliable Narrator. Recoveries of even terminal illnesses do, rarely, occur.
    • He prays for a sterile couple, who then miraculously conceived and gave birth to a child. Some types of sterility are less than 100% guaranteed; many couples try for years but eventually do conceive.
    • He prays for the nun withholding water from desperately poor Africans to face justice rather than removing her through his power in the church. She has a heart attack soon afterward, which is taken as divine justice. However, people of her age do have heart attacks.
  • Meaningful Name:
    • In-universe, on par with papal tradition, Lenny names himself after a predecessor, in this case as Pius XIII. What makes it meaningful is that this serves as a reference to Pius IX, X, XI, and XII, all are known for being both extremely conservative and infamous for their political decisions related to pre- and wartime Italy: Pius IX was the first person to introduce the “Non-Expedit”, which Lenny himself threatens the Prime Minister with, while the largest group of Traditional Catholic — a group who is against the changes introduced in Vatican-II — named themselves after Pius X, and is still Canonically Irregular.
    • Pius XIII's name is also ironic in that the name means "pious," while Lenny's faith is shown to be greatly conflicted, to say the least.
  • The Merch: In-universe, apparently, the Vatican has an official line of merchandise that makes up a sizable part of Holy See income. Pius XIII decides to stop the line. This obviously doesn't stop everyone else but the Vatican from making their own.
  • Morality Pet: Voiello also has one in the form of Girolamo, a young disabled man that he cares for.
  • Mr. Fanservice: Played with. While Lenny is presented as eye candy for the audience and is very smugly vain (up to and including his dressing for an address to his cardinals being set to LMFAO's "Sexy and I Know It"), he is nevertheless very committed to celibacy and is surprisingly absent from any of the show's sex scenes (the closest he gets to one is seeing Esther and her husband having sex, and going down on his knees to pray to God to give her a child).
  • Murder the Hypotenuse: Dussolier gets killed for banging the wife of a Honduran crime lord.
  • Naïve Newcomer: Lenny at the beginning is considered this as the show progress it is subverted.
  • Nightmare Sequence: Pius XIII tends to have a lot of these.
  • No Social Skills: Lenny is a curious blend of a master manipulator and an utter social klutz. He can threaten, browbeat and inspire fervent loyalty, yet many of his attempts at levity and normal social interaction fall completely flat. He's prone to say something incredibly rude and upsetting before claiming that he was "only joking."
  • Nun Too Holy:
  • O.O.C. Is Serious Business:
    • Voiello eventually has a short, non-diplomatic outburst of anger, when he shouts at the pope his plan concerning the Conclave, no longer able to keep a docile tone and cordial face.
    • Lenny's reaction of shock and fury at Sister Antonia's pride and manipulation of the African locals seems very OOC, especially considering "pride" and "manipulation" are hallmarks of his own character. It's Serious Business because it seriously foreshadows Lenny's shifts in attitude at the end of the series.
  • Parental Abandonment: Lenny grew up in an orphanage, left there by his hippie parents, who were more interested in partying and having fun than raising a child. This drags behind him for the rest of his life. To a lesser extent, Sister Mary forbids him from calling her Ma, which she does allow from her other foster son.
  • Parental Substitute: Sister Mary raised Lenny as a "good Christian." It doesn't make him treat her as a mother, but she still remains a very close associate of his.
  • Pietà Plagiarism:
    • In the third episode, when Esther is brought to see Lenny so she can tell him how much she loved his sermon, he grows distressed and suddenly faints into her arms. He's so heavy and she's so slight that this brings them both very nearly to the floor, echoing the Pieta even more.
    • The last shot of the finale. On the ground in front of the real Pièta, no less.
  • Pragmatic Villainy:
    • Cardinal Voiello embodies this trope, being a Vatican Secretary of State and playing political games for his entire life, while also being a trained diplomat. He is not evil per se, but is not above blackmail, lying, backroom deals, and throwing the rotten apples out when it works for the good of the Church.
    • Pope Pius XIII is a subversion. He acts without any bigger plan and assumes that everyone who won't follow his orders — no matter what said orders are going to be — is just a non-believer and should be simply ignored. He does a lot of harm before he finally wises up a bit.
  • Product Placement: Lenny insists on a daily breakfast of Cherry Coke Zero and nothing else. He's shown drinking the beverage several times.
  • Psychological Projection: Lenny's commandment, made while out of view of the faithful, to obsessively strive for both him and God, despite his private doubts that God even exists, seems calculated to force the Catholic population into a constant state of longing and fears of abandonment and being unloved- exactly what he feels about the parents who left him in an orphanage as a child.
  • Psychopathic Manchild: Lenny combines being petty and vindictive with the inability to see the consequences of his actions, assuming that those who are the "true believers" will understand or outright ignore them, being more focused on God than the machinations of the pope.
  • Really Gets Around: Esther looks almost like some sort of Camp Follower. And she works in Vatican City.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Cardinal Spencer delivers a few of those in his outbursts of anger. He is not above chewing up the new pope and his former protegee for acting like a 5-year-old boy with a desire to let the entire world suffer due to his personal issues. This impacts Lenny strong enough to have a nightmare in which he is a 5-year-old, still in papal robes, chasing after his escaping parents.
  • Reassigned to Antarctica: Lenny punishes clergymen he doesn't like by forcing them to point to a random spot on a globe in his office and send them there. And when the spot isn't "far away" enough, he still sends them to Alaska. Routinely.
  • Shout-Out: The title sequence features Lenny walking past a series of religious paintings with a meteor animated to shoot through them and cause destruction (much like Lenny is himself). It ends with a statue of Pope John Paul II getting hit by a physical meteor. This final image is actually based on another work of art, Maurizio Cattelan's "The Ninth Hour," which indeed is a statue of Pope John Paul II on his side, struck by a meteor.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance:
    • The opening credits are set, in every episode but one, to a remixed cover of "All Along the Watchtower" as Lenny walks in front of a gallery of Renaissance artwork.
    • LMFAO's "Sexy and I Know It" makes a somewhat Internet-infamous invoked appearance later on, as Lenny dresses to address the cardinals.
    • A number of other scenes depicting formally dressed clergy and dignified Catholic ritual are set to electronic pop music.
  • Straw Hypocrite: Lenny privately claims to not believe in God at all, which is bad enough from any pope, but particularly nasty coming from a pope who demands 24/7 soul-searching for closeness to God from his flock. He withdraws this immediately with a "Just Joking" Justification. Later comments indicate he takes a particularly grim deist view of the situation, but this could easily be viewed as doubly hypocritical given how easily he presents himself as both a nonchalant atheist and a fanatical true believer seated at God's right hand.
  • Strawman Political: Played with. The Italian Prime Minister seems to be portrayed as a strawman liberal, the most important parts of his political program being the legalization of common-law marriages, gay marriages, abortion, euthanasia, and ending the tax cuts for the Church, but these are also very common views in Italy, and also the side the show itself takes.
  • Surprisingly Realistic Outcome: Despite Lenny getting away with lots of things, he still has few massive fumbles. Most notably, after giving a highly controversial, aggressive, and outright reactionary address, Pius XIII causes a huge stir-up in the Church, both for clergy and laymen, which translates into a sharp drop in church attendance and a general feeling of confusion. Cutting off anyone who isn't just as extreme as the leader never works well for any organization. Pius XIII openly ignores this as a real problem or something to take into consideration.
  • Trademark Favorite Food: Cherry Coke Zero really stands out as the only breakfast the new pope has.
  • Two Decades Behind: Possibly with some Fridge Brilliance. While it is not spelled out, Lenny seems to be a Traditional Catholic, adhere to things that were suppressed (removed) after 1962, such as the papacy and Church administration.
    • Lenny's mentor was Cardinal Spencer, an ultra-conservative member of the clergy who it is implied is a traditionalist, possibly even anti-Vatican II, and basically the leading pillars of the conservative portion of the church. When Voiello and Spencer talk in Episode Three about the disaster that is Lenny as Pope, Spencer pretty much tells Voiella that he was intensely stupid to think that Lenny was anything remotely moderate, given that A) Spencer molded Lenny in his own image as his mentor and that B) The younger generation is ALWAYS more extreme than the older generation, meaning that Lenny's conservativism is not tempered by Spencer's own pragmatism in terms of having to bend in order to be a member of the clergy.
    • Reality Subtext: Most seminarians actually enter with a rather conservative mindset; It's not just old nostalgic people who are traditionalists. However, there does exist two branches of Traditionalist (Society of Pius X and Fraternity Society of St Peter) who are growing in numbers among the younger generations of the laity who attempt to adhere to things that were eliminated during Vatican-II and have a longing for the pre-Vatican-II papacy, Church administration, liturgy, and canons. While officially speaking, SSPX is canonically irregular, not seeing Vatican-II as an infallible council, while FSSP is in full communion and accepts Vatican-II, in practice some FSSP priests do privately align more with SSPX in thoughts. In addition, being fiction, it is possible that SSPX and Holy See agree to disagree, allowing someone like Lenny to be elected.
  • Tyrant Takes the Helm: Lenny doesn't take "no" as an answer. Whoever opposes him or just makes a funny remark about him, but is in the same time not essential for the existence of Vatican City or the Church itself, is instantly dealt with in extremely petty ways.
  • Unwanted Gift Plot: The gift from the Foreign Minister of Australia is a live kangaroo. Subverted, as Lenny decides to keep it in the Papal Gardens.
  • Viewers Are Geniuses:
    • The show is heavy on symbolism and liturgy - and without knowing a bit of theology or Catholicism administration trivia, tends to be unfathomable.
    • The “Non-Expedit” clause Lenny threatens the Prime Minister with. It refers to an event early in Italian history, when the Pope disallowed Italians from participating in the elections. It did not end well, for the Pope at least.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist:
    • Cardinal Voiello. If he does something, his ultimate goal is always the well-being of the Church in the modern world. He is no saint and he's aware of all his flaws, but it doesn't make his actions any less toward the ultimate goal of making sure the Church survives at all.
    • Pius XIII sees himself as one. Compared with his actions, it doesn't work or even look too well, not to mention being amazingly inefficient at first.
  • Writers Cannot Do Math: Or at least, popes can't. The Pope threatens the Italian Prime Minister, who according to the stated numbers gets 80+ percent of the non-Catholic vote, with forbidding Catholics from participating in the election. Since this would mean only non-Catholics would vote this would give the Prime Minister a supermajority of 80+%.