The Romanoffs is here. Matthew Weiner’s first big post-Mad Men television project for Amazon is big and star-studded unlike just about anything else on television, in good ways and… not as good ways. Each episode is a stand-alone story, with all new characters and action, with the only through-line being the Russian royal Romanoff family, from whom at least one of the main characters is descended.
Every week throughout the season, we’ll have a piece that breaks down each episode using numbers, because you can’t argue with numbers and we don’t like getting yelled at. The only exception will be this week. This week we will be discussing the first two episodes because Amazon released them both at once. This is their fault, not ours.
Number of Romanoffs: Dozens
This figure is inflated by the Romanoff/Romanov cruise ship family reunion in the second episode. There were really three.
In the first episode, we had two Romanoffs: Anushka (Marthe Keller), an aging woman in Paris who has a stunning apartment and a habit of berating staff; and Greg (Aaron Eckhart), her nephew, who would very much like the apartment when she passes away. Greg has an awful fiancée. Anushka has a new Middle Eastern aide. Do Anushka and her new aide, Hajar (Ines Melab), eventually develop a relationship based on respect after a rough start that features Anushka saying terrible entitled racist things to Hajar’s face and behind her back? Yes. Does Greg sleep with Hajar and get her pregnant and leave his fiancée? Yes. Is it all kind of weird and not great, like a B- Woody Allen movie with stronger chins? Yes. Seriously, Aaron Eckhart’s chin should be in a museum. It looks like it’s made of marble.
The second episode had one main Romanoff, Michael, played by Corey Stoll. He’s married to Shelly, played by Kerry Bishé, and it is not going well. He wants to sit around, she was to go hiking, they’re in therapy about it all. The main thrust of the episode is them going on separate paths: him staying home to serve on a jury in a murder trial, her going on the aforementioned glamorous Russian cruise. The both meet people. He has a creepy suave tryst with a mysterious British woman on the jury (Janet Montgomery), she almost has a tryst with a mysterious guy on the cruise (Noah Wylie). He kind of melts down about it. It’s not great. This will come up later.
Number of minutes each episode ran: 84, 86
This is, in my opinion, too many minutes. Especially for the content we were dealing with. It was all somehow too much for an episode of television and not enough for a movie and it ended up floating in this weird middle ground where it wasn’t satisfying in either direction. I’m not ruling out an improvement or all of it growing on me but I could really do with fewer minutes.
It’s fun to picture anyone else pitching this show, by the way. “So its a loosely connected series about descendants of a Russian royal family and there are no recurring characters or dragons and every episode is 90 minutes long and costs $10 million and… hello? Hello? We must have gotten disconnected.”
Number of cigarettes smoked: So many
Every character in the first two episodes smoked cigarettes, some of them constantly. Janet Montgomery’s character, Michele, a former ballerina and thrill-seeker, smokes so many cigarettes that her lungs must look like abandoned coal furnaces. This all has very little to do with anything but considering Mad Men was a very cigarette-y show too, it feels important to note.
Number of fake Faberge eggs: 2
Two episodes, two Faberge eggs. One was clearly fake because it was five feet tall and on display in the middle of a cruise ship, but the other, owned by Anushka, was a secret fake, and served as a metaphor for her life and — one assumes — where this series is all headed. It’s a glamorous-seeming status symbol tied to a place in history but it’s actually just a worthless mirage. Both Anushka and Michael behaved as though they’re entitled to something and neither really knows what. There’s a restlessness to both of them, which they act on in different but similarly harmful ways. They’re the people version of fake Faberge eggs. They look good at first but they’re hollow and plastic.
Number of times a charac-… heyyyyyyy, that’s John Slattery: 1
I whooped out loud a little. I’ll admit it.
Number of non-amphibious animals doing water-based things: 2
The festivities on the cruise featured champagne sabering, and a very insensitive historical reaction of Rasputin’s role in the Romanov family that starred little people, and a horse. A horse on a boat. I have many questions about this, mostly pertaining to what exactly a horse does on a cruise in the many hours it does not spend trotting out onto a parquet dance floor to the delight of well-dressed descendants of deposed Russian monarchs. My guess: Daiquiris.
And in the first episode, there was this…
… which is basically the GIF equivalent of someone jumping into a comment section with a piping hot take even though they didn’t read a single word of the article. The dog’s name is Alexei. He is a good boy and I love his adorable reckless face.
Number of times Corey Stoll tried to kill Kerry Bishé and then she pepper-sprayed him and whomped him in the jimmies and drove off listening to Cake’s cover of “I Will Survive”: 1
This is how the second episode ended. Corey Stoll’s character was so bummed about his jury-affair ending and the British ballerina rejecting him because she didn’t want to split up his marriage that he finally decided to go hiking with his wife. And then he pushed her off a cliff. But she didn’t die. And then she did this. His plan could have gone better. That’s what I’m saying. Kerry Bishé rules.