THE IMPERIAL SYSTEM
Set in old Russia, The Romanoffs revives the tradition of the classic TV anthology series
Ambitious, lavishly LOS ANGELES produced television series are routine in the era of big-spending streaming platforms.
But the latest entry, The Romanoffs, tests viewers with its classic TV format: It’s an anthology series made up of eight selfcontained episodes, a contrast with the season-long narratives of shows including American Crime Story.
The element connecting the tales of The Romanoffs is the ancestral link its main characters claim to the Russian imperial family assassinated in the early 20th century. The show’s debut on Amazon Prime Video pairs two episodes, The Violet Hour and The Royal We. (Subsequent episodes will be rolled out on Fridays.)
Corey Stoll, who stars in the second episode with Kerry Bishé, Janet Montgomery and Noah Wyle, says the series reflects its historical roots.
“What makes The Romanoffs an exciting and fertile ground from which to tell our stories is the contradictions (in them),” Stoll said.
“There is this incredible grace and glamour and power that the family had. But there was an enormous amount of degradation and scandal.”
The early episodes don’t reach the heights of Romanoff (alternatively spelled Romanov) royal tragedy, but there is greed, racist cruelty, betrayal and, perhaps, love scattered throughout what are essentially individual movies.
While early TV was home to anthology series with stand-alone episodes, including the 1956-60 Playhouse 90, audiences are now used to binging on continuing stories.
With The Romanoffs, viewers will instead find new characters, shifting comedic and dramatic tones and a veritable travelogue of settings — the series was shot in Paris, London, Mexico City, New York and Hong Kong, among other places.
The Romanoffs also could prove a measure of how its creator, Matthew Weiner, is viewed after facing an allegation of sexual misconduct in the Mad Men workplace and claims he could be a harsh boss on the 2007-15 drama.
(Weiner, who declined to be interviewed for this story, has refuted the accusation that he had made a lewd comment to a female writer. He has previously described himself as “angry” at times during production of the popular AMC show.)
Several of The Romanoffs’ cast members, who joined the project before the allegation became public last year, said working with Weiner proved only rewarding.
“My experience with Matt was great,” said Amanda Peet, who plays a woman confronted by her past in the episode Expectation, streaming Oct. 26. “I understand that isn’t the case for everybody. But for me it’s great.”
Jon Tenney, who stars opposite Peet, also labelled his experience “great.” As for the allegations, Tenney said, “that’s for Matt to talk about.”
Annet Mahendru, who appears with Kathryn Hahn and Jay R. Ferguson in the Nov. 16 episode, End of the Line, marvelled at Weiner’s attention to detail.
“We picked out my nail polish together.
Usually in TV shows there’s no time to decide things like that,” said Mahendru, who also recalled him jumping in to sweep lint off the floor before a scene.
Weiner, who directed the series and wrote or co-wrote most of the episodes, “really loves what he does, and because of that we got to enjoy it and do what we love in the fullest possible way,” she said.
While actors were drawn by the scripts and Weiner’s Mad Men track record — the series won 16 Emmy Awards, including four trophies as best drama series — some had other reasons to jump on board.
“My wife is actually of Romanoff descent,” said Stoll, with her mother a duchess. “But I didn’t know the whole history of the Romanoffs until I was cast. I figured it’s a good excuse to do some research.”
For Aaron Eckhart, who stars in The Violet Hour with Marthe Keller and Inès Melab, the chance to work in Paris in the spring was a definite plus for the U.S. actor, who once lived there.
He called it “wonderful” to be able to practise his French and to “have Paris as your backdrop . ...
“We were filming on the Champs-Élysées, we’re on Georges V (Avenue), we were all over town,” he said.
Kerry Bishé, left, in The Romanoffs, a lavish and sprawling series from Matthew Weiner, best known as creator of Mad Men.