‘Mad Men’ cre­ator turns ‘Romanoffs’ into sparkly, self-in­dul­gent dis­as­ter

USA TODAY International Edition - - LIFE - Kelly Lawler

“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.

JAN THIJS/AMA­ZON

An episode of “The Romanoffs” is a waste of Kerry Bishe.

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