Netflix debuted its latest series over the weekend, the 10-part epic Marco Polo, based on the famed explorer’s adventures in Kublai Khan’s court in 13th century China. Reports suggest that the price tag on the series came in around $90 million, although it appears from the reviews that little of that was spent on acting talent or writing. There are virtually no recognizable actors in Marco Polo, which comes from John Fusco, the writer of Young Guns and Hidalgo.
There’s also been virtually no buzz on the series since its release on Friday. Unlike some of Netflix’s previous releases, there’s been no flurry of reviews. Few people are racing through the series and tweeting about it along the way. Even aside from reviews, the reception has been … quiet.
Ultimately, maybe that’s OK, because Marco Polo wasn’t specifically designed for the North American market. From the reviews I’ve seen so far, it appears Marco Polo was tailored for the International audience, which is something that Netflix hasn’t truly pierced with its other original series.
So, even if Marco Polo is a failure in America, Netflix’s $90 million gamble may ultimately pay off for the streaming service if it can expand its international audience.
In the meantime, reviews have not been kind.
The Wrap is down on Marco Polo’s uncharismatic lead:
Sensual and opulent visuals truly help “Marco Polo” stand out and it is clear that no expense was spared when it comes to cinematic and breathtaking shots of the Chinese hillside, lush costuming and sets and convincing wigs. The majority of the cast, which includes Joan Chen (“The Last Emperor”), is also strikingly international and attractive.
But all the eye candy in the world can’t compensate for star Lorenzo Richelmy’s lack of screen presence as the title character. Although the story is supposed to be his, the Italian actor is harder to sympathize with and relate to than a heroine on a Jenji Kohan series.
Liz Shannon Miller over on IndieWire was not impressed, either:
In the long run, the worst TV is the TV that gets no reaction and inspires no emotion. So I’ll say this for Marco Polo — it is not the worst show I’ve ever seen. It is, however, on the way to becoming one of the most disappointing.
Time’s James Poniewozik says it clearly misses the mark:
Marco Polo (first season debuts online Friday), the lush drama set in the 13th-century court of Kublai Khan, feels less like precision targeting than a flurry of wildly fired arrows, the scattershot, overstuffed result of a “You Might Like…” algorithm run amok. If you like Game of Thrones, and historical drama, and pay-cable softcore, and martial arts movies (like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, whose sequel Netflix is also making)–and you want them crammed together, narrative sense be damned–you might like this gorgeous but ludicrous saga.
The Hollywood Reporter’s Tim Goodman singles out the bad writing, and offers examples:
About that writing. What makes Game of Thrones and other epic stories transcend middling filler is great writing to start with, then exceptional acting to bring it home. But the actors in Marco Polo suffer from the dialogue they’re forced to utter. Like the wife who pleads, “Give me the nectar,” to her husband as they have sex. Or Chen’s lines about Khan’s brother needing to be “trampled by a thousand horses and left on the steps to rot.” He is, as she said earlier, a dog who would “eat his own afterbirth.”
Most critics are singling out the Game of Thrones-ification of Marco Polo and commenting on the gratuitous nudity, which apparently doesn’t improve the series much, so says Ken Tucker at Yahoo:
Except for the sound of my own eyes popping during the naked-woman-killing-three-guys scene in “Hour Two,” almost every noise made in Marco Polo is sound and fury signifying very little. I realize that’s a paraphrase of Shakespeare, when I should be paraphrasing Coleridge’s “Kubla Khan,” but really, it doesn’t matter. You’d probably be better off using your Netflix subscription to watch your favorite Orange Is the New Black inmate’s backstory one more time.
Robert Lloyd, in his pan of Marco Polo, tried to find something worthwhile about the series:
Some viewers may find it all quite pleasant in its undemanding, familiar way. Marco Polo is sumptuous enough — it can be interesting just to look at, with its colorful sets and costumes, exotic locations and physical and digital realizations of a lost civilization.
So, if you were waiting to see what kind of reception Marco Polo got before devoting 10 hours of your life to it, there’s your answer. You may be better off using your downtime over the holidays catching up on Peaky Blinders or Amazon’s Transparent.