THE IM­PE­RIAL SYS­TEM

Set in old Rus­sia, The Romanoffs re­vives the tra­di­tion of the clas­sic TV an­thol­ogy series

Calgary Herald - - YOU+TV - LYNN EL­BER

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.

JAN THIJS/AMA­ZON STU­DIOS

Kerry Bishé, left, in The Romanoffs, a lav­ish and sprawl­ing series from Matthew Weiner, best known as cre­ator of Mad Men.

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