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A Millennial Shakespeare in TNT’s ‘Will’
July 10, 2017  | By David Hinckley
 

Imagine William Shakespeare not as a dignified and revered master playwright, but as a scrappy young dreamer who looks like he could have stepped out of a Twilight movie.

Imagine Shakespeare as an ambitious millennial, in other words, which is what TNT has done with its new series Will, which premieres with back-to-back episodes Monday at 9 p.m. ET.

Laurie Davidson (top) plays the young Shakespeare, who we meet just as he’s leaving his wife and three young children back in Stratford to walk to London and try to become a rich and famous playwright.

With the luxury of history, we know that worked out. But Davidson’s Shakespeare doesn’t have that information yet, so instead, we see him as a handsome young hunk with huge blue eyes and two immediate dramas, one very promising and the other very dire.

On the dire side, he’s carrying a letter and rosary beads that mark him as a Catholic.

That’s a problem because, in 1589 England, the ruling hierarchy wanted to hunt down and kill every Catholic it could find. In the first episode, we see two graphic and gruesome examples of the extreme methods by which this was done.

Will’s letter is pilfered by a hustling street urchin, who sees it as information he could trade to get his sister out of prostitution.

Better news for Shakespeare is that within 48 hours of arriving in London, he has sold a play to one of the most popular theater companies in London, which will produce it the next night.

Don’t ask.

He’s also met a beautiful girl, Alice Burbage (Olivia De Jonge, left), who is the daughter of the theater company owner James Burbage (Colm Meaney) and is instantly smitten with this dreamy newcomer.

To his credit, Will only indulges in one long drunken kiss with Alice before he tells her he’s married. Points to Will for honesty. Points to the writers for accelerating the flowering of the show’s inner soap opera.

Unattainable romance. A sure winner.

And did we mention that Will runs into Christopher Marlowe (Jamie Campbell Bower), already an established playwright and also a young hunk?

Marlowe could ruin him and chooses not to, instead seeing in Will a potential party pal.   

When it’s not tracking Shakespeare’s instant good fortune or appalling viewers with the religious warfare of the time, Will includes an actors’ showdown that resembles a battle between rap MCs and some allusion from Alice to the repression of women and the need for personal freedom.

As this might suggest, Will often feels like a millennial drama dropped into 16th century London. It takes a casual attitude toward history and uses the fact we know relatively little about Shakespeare’s early day-to-day life to imagine that life unfolded in a style that would be right at home on, say, the CW.

At times, in fact, the CW’s Reign comes to mind here, as does the Starz series Da Vinci’s Demons.

It’s not a dealbreaker of an idea to take a famous historical figure and put him or her into a world that makes his or her life more relatable to young folks who come along several centuries later.

It works better, though, if the modern trappings flavor the historic character, rather than the other way around.

 
 
 
 
 
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Good news, TVWW readers: David’s new book from Doubleday, The Platinum Age of Television: From I Love Lucy to The Walking Dead, How TV Became Terrific is available on Amazon for $20. (Paperback will be available September 5th, here.)

Doubleday says: “Darwin had his theory of evolution, and David Bianculli has his. Bianculli's theory has to do with the concept of quality television: what it is and, crucially, how it got that way."

"The Platinum Age of Television is an effusive guidebook that plots the path from the 1950s’ Golden Age to today’s era of quality TV. For instance, animation evolved from Rocky and His Friends to South Park; variety shows moved from The Ed Sullivan Show to Saturday Night Live; and family sitcoms grew from I Love Lucy to Modern Family. A high point is the author’s interviews with Carl Reiner, Mel Brooks, Norman Lear, Bob Newhart, Matt Groening, Larry David, Amy Schumer and many others...Bianculli has written a highly readable history." —The Washington Post

 

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