Amazon premiered “The Romanoffs” on Oct. 12. It’s one of their most expensive projects to date. The series is about descendants of the famed Russian Romanov family, whose mythology has permeated several generations, since the slaughter of Tsar Nicholas II and his family in 1918.
A new installment is released each Friday, portraying fictional members of the Romanov family tree living in various parts of the world. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to summarize the plot more deeply, because there is little plot to summarize.
Matt Weiner, creator of the hit AMC period drama “Mad Men,” was given $70 million and an unrestricted creative license to make what was supposed to be one of the greatest shows of our generation. In reality, the fruit of Amazon’s money and resources is a non-cohesive mess that leaves viewers wondering why they’re still watching.
Each episode, with run times ranging from 70 to 90 minutes, provides a wholly independent story from previous episodes, complete with entirely new casts and different locations across the globe. Other than the consistency that one character is always vaguely connected to the Romanov family, which is infrequently mentioned, there is almost no link from one week to the next.
Through the first five episodes, the independent stories have ridden the scale from “vaguely interesting” to “this makes absolutely no sense.” For example, the most recent episode served as Weiner’s attempt to tackle two major social issues: believing victims of abusive behavior, and the consequences of false accusations. This is a tall order to fill for any performance art, much less one that is supposed to be about the descendants of a Russian dynasty.
The episode, titled, “A Bright and High Circle,” stars Diane Lane, Ron Livingston, and Andrew Rannells. Lane and Livingston play Katherine and Alex, a wealthy couple who employ David, played by Rannells, as their three sons’ piano teacher.
Before the story falls to pieces, which doesn’t take long, it is impossible not to notice the beauty of the location and filming. Clearly, money was spent on this production and very talented cast. It hardly looks like something meant for television, as the scenes are dramatically spliced together in an eye-pleasing romp through historic mansions and beautifully lit scenery.
Unfortunately, beauty isn’t everything in storytelling, and the story told here is about as graceful as a limping billy goat. David is soon accused of inappropriate conduct by an unknown student, which Katherine learns about from an inexplicably strange police officer. Unable to recontact the police throughout the entire episode, Katherine decides to interrogate her children to find out if they have ever seen any suspicious behavior from their piano teacher.
She has three sons, so that’s three agonizingly long conversations in which children are forced to talk to their mother about sexual misconduct. Through these tedious interactions, the viewer learns absolutely nothing about the story. It’s just three boys with incredibly long monologues that do not move the plot in any way.
The episode is peppered with flashbacks of David attempting to social climb and ingratiate himself with the elite families he works for, but reveals no indication that he has abused his students. It seems, through Katherine’s suspicion and strange conversations with other piano moms, that the writers want the viewer to think the invisible accuser should be believed and Rannells banished from his circle of rich friends.
Katherine’s husband, Alex, has far fewer scenes, but has made it clear that he found David an annoying suck-up, and is fairly glad to see his undoing. With minutes left in the episode, Alex reveals he had a childhood friend, “Allen,” who turned out to be a girl, even though he had led everyone to believe Allen was a boy. In a flashback, Alex’s father gives a rather unbelievable speech about being accepting and woke, and Alex in turn tells his sons that false accusations ruin lives.
In an impassioned speech, he sits his sons down and explains how wrongly accusing someone sticks with them their whole lives, even if they are innocent. The boys look at their father in a daze, which was similar to my own reaction upon this weird and mismatched conclusion of episode five.
Weiner was accused of sexual harassment at the end of 2017, and it appears as though “A Bright and High Circle” concluded with a stand against what he claims were false accusations. He is right, of course: unsubstantiated allegations are incredibly harmful and can needlessly ruin innocent lives. His episode was unlikely meant to defend Brett Kavanaugh, but it would be impossible not to draw the comparison, given the timing.
Sadly, this very meaningful and well-written speech seemed to belong to a different story than the one told in the first part of his episode. This choppy, mismatched, pointless story-telling, with no incentive for viewers to keep watching week after week, is the only thing that is consistent from episode to episode.
Surely, there are worse shows than this airing on various networks at any given time. The tragedy of “The Romanoffs” is the utter waste of talent, money, and expert location shooting that simply doesn’t have a story to match. Each episode is so widely different, they can hardly be viewed in succession. Even within the episodes themselves, there is so much lag and lack of development that boredom and abandonment would be inevitable without the scenery and high-powered cast. This show is smoke and mirrors trickery, with no substantive reward for those seeking a compelling narrative.