A (Somewhat) Helpful Guide To The ‘Young/New Pope’ Universe

The important thing for you to know is that I’m serious. It’s going to seem like I’m not as this really gets going, but I am. I’m very serious. The Young Pope was a good show. It was, like, beautiful and breathtaking and unlike anything else I’ve seen on television before or since. Creator Paolo Sorrentino created this world where any whimsical flight of fancy was possible — a kangaroo was murdered in the Vatican gardens, for example — and grounded it in a story about abandonment and sadness. It was one of the wildest rides a television show has ever taken me on. I loved it deeply for reasons both silly and, again, very serious.

The follow-up to The Young Pope is now here. It’s called The New Pope and it will feature John Malkovich as, well, the new pope, who must work around and with the old young pope, played again by Jude Law. I want everyone to watch it, in part because it’s a thrilling ongoing television experiment and in part because I’m going to need people to discuss it with. And so, with that goal in mind, I figured I’d put this together. Think of it as a refresher and a field guide and the written equivalent of a hype man hooting and hollering to get the audience all fired up for the main event. That’s what I’m doing here: hooting and hollering about some popes. There are worse gigs.

Who is the Young Pope?

The Young Pope is an American named Lenny Belardo, which is a real blast to say in your thickest New York accent. He was elected after a big controversy/compromise in the Vatican, with the thinking among the cardinals being that they could control him like a white-robed puppet. They… could not. Lenny named himself Pope Pius and immediately set out to pull the Church in a very conservative direction, with formal rules and harsh punishments and no gray areas anywhere. It threw the entire Vatican into chaos and the chaos continued unabated throughout the season.

Why was the Young Pope like that?

He was like that, in large part, because he was raised by nuns after his parents abandoned him as a baby so they could go live some freewheeling hippie lifestyle. You can tell this eats at him because he has multiple visions/dreams about it, including one where he crawls out of a mountain of fetuses, which really was not something I ever expected to see.

This show does sound pretty wild

Buddy, that’s nothing. Here is the hyper-conservative Young Pope getting ready for an address in a montage set to LMFAO.

Here is a line of dialogue that happened and lives in my head forever now.


Here is Diane Keaton playing basketball.


I really cannot stress strongly enough how out there things got sometimes. The main antagonist was a cardinal named Voiello who loved soccer and had a huge fake mole on his cheek and spent a solid chunk of the season trying to trick the Pope into having an affair with the wife of a Vatican guard. The Australian government sent him a kangaroo as a present. Someone got banished to Alaska. The whole thing played out like more of a crazy pop art experiment than a television show and yet ended up being, at various points, touching and sweet and devastating. I dug it immensely.

Tell me about The New Pope

There are three things you need to know about this follow-up series going in. One, at the end of the first go-round, Pope Lenny collapsed and is now in a coma. Two, he is replaced by Sir John Brannox, an English aristocrat and former punk musician played by John Malkovich. Three, it’s a whole thing, as Sorrentino explained to Variety in an interview.

The concept is simple. The basic idea is to latch on to the end of the first season. The pope, played by Jude Law, goes into a coma that, from a scientific standpoint, is considered irreversible and can only end up in death. So the church has to resort to a new pope, who is played by John Malkovich. But since we are in a territory where reason is overtaken by spiritual mysteries and by God, Jude Law’s coma may not be so irreversible. It may have some unexpected novelties, so that two popes can co-exist in the episodes that follow.

Very few things explain the Young/New Pope universe more accurately than the creator laying out a scenario in which a pope slips into a coma and is replaced by a punk rock musician and aristocrat played by John Malkovich and the first sentence of the explanation is “The concept is simple.” It was already perfect and that’s before the trailer revealed that Pope Lenny is being kept alive in a makeshift Vatican ICU guarded by a neon cross.

What else do we know about John Malkovich’s character going in?

I mean, not too much, but what else do you need beyond “John Malkovich plays an English punk rocker who becomes the head of the Catholic Church”?

I don’t know, maybe some pictures?

Hmm, that’s fair. Here are some promotional pictures of John Malkovich in The New Pope


Is that… is the pope playing the harp in a bow tie?

It sure looks like it!

Okay. Okay. This all seems great. Is there anything else that’s necessary to know before diving into this new adventure?

Two things. First, this season also features Sharon Stone and Marilyn Manson as guest stars.

Marilyn Manson is in the TV show about John Malkovich and Jude Law battling for papal supremacy?!


That’s gonna take a while to comprehend. But what’s the second thing?

I’ve had a Dr. Seuss rhyme about the show stuck in my head for weeks.

Hmm. It’s not “one pope, two pope, young pope, new pope” is it?

… Maybe…

Was this whole thing just an excuse to get that in print somewhere?

… Maybe…

Seems reasonable, given the circumstances.

I thought so, too.