‘Mad Men’ creator turns ‘Romanoffs’ into sparkly, self-indulgent disaster
“Mad Men” this is not. AMC’s drama about Madison Avenue ad executives was a masterful, exquisitely crafted period piece that still managed to touch on the way we live now, with impeccable performances and deep emotional stakes. But “Mad Men” creator Matthew Weiner’s new Amazon anthology series “The Romanoffs” (first two episodes streaming Friday, then weekly; egEE) is none of those things. Instead, it’s a prime example of “prestige TV” run amok: all glitz, A-list stars and exotic locations with nothing substantive underneath. Hacky, navel-gazing and self-aggrandizing, “Romanoffs” is meant to be a global and generational collection of eight stories that interconnect, however distantly or imagined, to the Russian royal family that was murdered by the Bolsheviks in the Russian Revolution. Its first two episodes made available for review include moments of entertainment, beautiful landscapes and clever acting, but they are overrun by nonsensical plotting and rubbish dialogue. Like Netflix’s sci-fi “Black Mirror,” “Romanoffs” is an anthology series with different casts and a different story in each episode. The first, “The Violet Hour,” follows an elderly descendant of the Romanoffs, Anushka (Marthe Keller), living in Paris and cared for by her American nephew Greg (Aaron Eckhart), who mostly wants to inherit her apartment. In the second, “The Royal We,” Corey Stoll plays Michael Romanoff, a selfish man in a midlife crisis who abandons his wife, Shelly (Kerry Bishe). “The Violet Hour” starts off slowly but eventually becomes a touching story about Anushka and her new Muslim caretaker, Hajar (Ines Melab), a relationship that starts out confrontational (mostly because of Anushka’s racism) but ends up remarkably tender. It might have been really decent if not for an aggressively cheesy twist. “Royal We” is more of a train wreck, equal parts boring and repulsive, a waste of its talented stars. Streaming sites offer creators free rein, but time and again the final product reminds us why having editors and constraints is sometimes exactly what makes great art click.
An episode of “The Romanoffs” is a waste of Kerry Bishe.