A complete archive of The Medium is Not Enough’s reviews of US TV programmes since 2005
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It’s no coincidence that the best moment in the third episode of Will was a straight lift of the famous opening scene of Trainspotting, complete with Iggy Pop’s ‘Lust for Life’ playing in the background, since it’s a show that very much excels when it remembers to have a lust for life. Unfortunately, when it forgets that zest, it becomes just an ordinary, turgid period drama.
It’s a retelling of William Shakespeare’s ‘lost years’ when he first came to London, all given a punk make-over by Baz Luhrmann’s long-time writing partner Craig Pearce and Elizabeth‘s director Shekhar Kapur. Will‘s first episode is a truly exciting piece of work giving us a contemporary Elizabethan London, full of fire and joys and a Clash soundtrack, yet still clearly anchored in the history of the time. We get to see Shakespeare’s first (possible) play performed, while he does his best to hide his secret catholicism from the authorities, who include spy and writing rival Christopher Marlowe. There’s also a love interest to inspire him, although given he’s married to Anne Hathaway and has a whole bunch of kids, he’s torn between his new love and his catholic beliefs.
And it was all marvellously exciting in the same way A Knight’s Tale and Moulin Rouge were. Episode two (Cowards Die Many Times), however, was a far duller, joyless piece more interested in Marlowe’s pouting and Shakespeare’s potential as the leader of a Catholic uprising than life and theatre in all its glories. 16th century theatre as the punk rock of its time? Who cares when there’s torturing of the innocent to be had?
For about half of episode three (The Two Gentlemen), the show looked like it had lost its way and was continuing on the path set by episode two. But along came Iggy Pop (unfortunately without show co-star Ewen Bremner around to join in) and once again, all was right in the world, as Shakespeare learns that good artists borrow, great artists steal – in this case, literally – and before you know it, he’s crossing out the names from a Spanish book to give us The Two Gentlemen of Verona, all while Marlowe is having rampant gay orgies to try to inspire a Doctor Faustus out of himself.
Provided Will confines itself mainly to the man and his work while maintaining its fabulous punk aesthetic and appreciation for time, place and language, it’ll be must-see TV. It throws away dusty, tedious period dramas to give us something far more compelling and joyful that still manages to give us some actual history. But when it gets lured back into the ordinary and the conventional, it’s as unremarkable as John Ford.
Barrometer rating: ‘2 or about as good as John Barrowman’s appearance in Doctor Who‘