'The Romanoffs' review: 90 minutes of lessons in human weakness and lots of unexplored themes
These two episodes clearly show a faint hope of potential but are marred by the lack of a proper story and themes which were supposed to be explored in the first place.
'The Romanoffs' released two of its episodes on Amazon Prime Videos on October 12. The original anthology series is based on people around the world who believe they are descendants of the Russian royal family. The show tries to take a dive into the obsession with being a royal, especially this one considering its horrific past. Created, written, directed and produced by nine-time Emmy award winner Matthew Weiner, who was also behind 'Mad Men', the show will reveal its stories in eight parts.
The first episode titled 'The Violet Hour' is set in Paris where Romanov descendant Greg (Aaron Eckhart) lives with his greedy for money girlfriend, Sophie (Louis Bourgoin). The couple co-manages a hotel in Paris, where they also live in. Sophie has her eye set to live in the ancestral house of Greg's Aunt also a Romanov, Anushka (Marthe Keller) and also a Fabergé egg she has promised them. Since, it's an ancestral house, after Anushka's death, it will belong to Greg, who is her only family.
However, Sophie grows more impatient every passing day, expecting Anushka to die due to her constant high blood pressure and occasional fainting incidents. She also suggests Greg kill her, basically making her character heartless and plain evil. However, the focus of the episode is on the relationship between Anushka and her newly hired in-home caregiver, Hajar Azim (Inès Melab), a young Muslim girl who is studying to be a nurse and helping her family. Her identity is a problem to Anushka and on her introduction, Anushka asks the girl to "take her bombs and go home". Hajar finally manages to wear down the old crone and Anushka and Hajar grow close and develop a special bond. Anushka collapses and gets sicker but Hajar takes care of her. Greg, meanwhile, is unable to come to his aunt's aid as Sophie thinks it his Anushka's trick to ruin their vacation.
Anushka's closeness with Hajar prompts her decision to give the apartment to Hajar as she was with her when she was sick and was the only one taking care of her. This naturally, annoys Sophie and Greg too was seen disappointed. Greg thinks of talking Hajar out of the whole apartment thing, while she makes him understand that she is not interested but this is Anushka's decision. Greg and Hajar enjoy a romantic evening together and end up getting intimate.
Things escalate, soon there is a baby involved. The aging matriarch is all too happy that her family line will continue, even though it is from Hajar and a non-Romanov while a bitter Sophie has no choice but to leave Greg and Anushka. On her way out, she takes the gorgeous Faberge egg from the shelf, as a symbol of her taking a payment for all the damage. However, the truth to it is a different story altogether.
The episode of 90 minutes seemed very rushed towards the end. The storyline of Hajar and Greg seems very vague. It makes the audience wonder that Greg wasn't all that nice as he was portrayed and just slept with Hajar to get her emotionally involved to give up the apartment. Sophie, who was any way unlikeable did not mind him cheating on her and leaving her when his one-night stand got knocked up. And all of this happens only in the last 15 minutes.
It comes across that while making the episode, the makers went into great detail to define the characters, but then suddenly realize that the time is up and they have to wrap the story in less than 15 minutes with a happy ending for, well most, of the characters. Here we go!
Apart from the storyline, the character of Anushka, portrayed by Marthe Keller lacked the much-needed background. The writers could have dug a little deeper into her character, just like Greg's. These are supposedly the descendants of Romanovs, but the story misses that point. Despite the show's focal point being the family line not much time is spent exploring it. The character of Hajar was beautifully portrayed and well defined. Probably, the best character in the episode.
If you think the first episode missed the point of 'The Romanoffs', you must wait on it till you see the second episode, 'The Royal We'. Like the first episode, even the second episode deals with relationships and emotional vulnerability, but of a married couple or the married Romanoff couple.
The story begins at a couple's therapy session of Michael Romanoff (Corey Stoll), the descendant of the family and his wife, Shelly Romanoff (Kerry Bishe). The couple's married life seems to be hanging by a thread. Michael and Shelly together run a test prep tutoring center in an Ohio strip mall, and Michael is bang in the center of a mid-life crisis.
When Michael is called for jury duty he absolutely hates it initially but later he meets this woman named Michelle (Janet Mongomery) and is immediately attracted to her. Michael's attraction is so strong that he delays the jury deliberation process by days than necessary just so that he can spend more time with her. Michael's jury duty clashes with a plan he and Shelly made to go on a cruise specifically for the Romanoff family and their spouses. Michael motivates Shelly to take the trip alone as she "works hard" and "deserves it" while paving the way to get to Michelle, which actually works. Shelly goes on the trip alone while Michael gets to play his moves on Michelle, eventually getting her to sleep with him and then onto leaving him. That escalated really quick!
Michelle reveals that she was married and sometimes sneaks around a little bit of sexual freedom and even that does not stop him from asking her the weirdest question, "What if I was single?”.
Meanwhile, Shelly on her cruise comes across a man named Ivan (Noah Wyle), another Romanoff by marriage like her. The two seemed to click instantly as even his wife couldn't make it on the trip. The two spend quality time with each other, ending up in a makeout session in the lift, while on the way to Shelly's room. After reaching the room Shelly hesitates to take things any further, and Ivan understands that. He leaves Shelly with a peck saying, "He’s a very lucky man."
After her return from the trip, Shelly is committed to trying her best to keep the marriage alive, however, she didn't know that Michael is unable to get over Michelle. Michael takes to plotting something devilish as he suggests Shelly and he go for a hike. Our worst fears come true, the hike was a plan so that he could push Shelly off a cliff, out of his life and clear the road for Michelle. However, fate has different plans as Shelly sees her husband for what he truly is and manages to survive the fall. This incident on the cliff makes her realize her marriage is really over. A blabbering Michael follows trying to cook up excuses but Shelly's wiser now and she finally allows herself to smile.
The storyline, unlike the first episode, is well distributed and gives us the feeling of having watched a feature film. Although, the character of Michael could have been explored more. We don't know what is his problem and why is it the way he is? He is just seen either growling at Shelly or hitting on Michelle. However, this episode again does not explain to us how is this story important to its audience from a point of view that they are the descendants of Romanoffs. The need to put this background should have an impact on the viewers but it looks like they are regular rich people going through some stuff in their lives. Couples giving into a moment of weakness, and a marriage on its brink, that's about it.
These two episodes tell us a story about different characters like an anthology should, but the connection between all of them cannot just be the family name, or if it is, it has to be explored more. We will wait to see what the next episode titled 'House of Special Purpose' brings to us on October 19 on Amazon Prime videos.