The ‘Young Pope’ Popedown, Episode 1: Someone Get The Pope A Cherry Coke Zero

The Young Pope Popedown is a list of the five craziest and/or most notable things that happened in each episode of HBO’s The Young Pope, ranked from least to most crazy and/or notable. Like a countdown, but with popes.

5. Enter, Lenny Belardo

What have we learned about our new young pope, Lenny Belardo, so far…

Well, for one, we learned that he was orphaned at a young age and raised by Diane Keaton (er, Sister Mary), which resulted in the kind of childhood trauma that makes one’s mother figure expressly bring it up as a warning after one flies said mother figure to the Vatican in a helicopter and installs her as his number two.

We learned that he has a mentor, Cardinal Spencer, who views Lenny as “a beloved, detested protege,” and is so upset about Lenny getting chosen as pope over him that his first moments on screen are a halfhearted bathroom suicide attempt that is thwarted by nuns.

We learned that he was voted in by a group of people who hoped he’d be a “telegenic puppet.”

We learned he likes “jokes,” which are not so much jokes as they are him saying something shocking to a powerful person and then following-up with “I’m joking.”

We learned he is a power-mad paranoid lunatic who issues very thinly-veiled threats to people on his first day and who is not above bribing a priest to break the vow of secrecy, especially if it means he can learn which cardinals are horny as hell about statues.

But mostly, we learned that he really loves cigarettes and hats. And that it is hilarious that the pope is named Lenny Belardo. That sounds like the name of a guy who owns a pawn shop. “Yeah, I gotta take this watch down to Lenny Belardo and see if I can get $80 for it to cover the gas bill.” Hmm. That got depressing kinda quick.

Anyway, a solid start.

4. The Breakfast of Champions

The Young Pope requires no breakfast. The Young Pope requires only Cherry Coke Zero and many cigarettes for sustenance. Please make a note.

(I’m not sure about the historical accuracy of the breakfast options at the Vatican, but if this is the potential spread available to the Holy Father every morning, it’s kind of surprising we haven’t had more fat popes. Perhaps we will find out more about this in the Young Pope spinoff, The Fat Pope, which does not exist and will never exist, but which I now want desperately. A whole string of The [adjective] Pope spinoffs, in fact, like so many CSIs. The Fat Pope, The Tall Pope, The Jacked Pope, etc. If we’re going to do this, let’s really do it.)

This entire scene is nuts and delightful, not least because it is the audience’s first real non-dream introduction to Lenny Belardo. I had actually seen it before I even got my screeners, because someone on Twitter directed me to it during the show’s original run in Europe last year. I was amazed then and am even more amazed now, because I had assumed this was something from a little further into the show, after we knew a little more about him. Nope. Right away. Like, we’re still a good 10-15 minutes away from learning he’s an orphan who was taken in by a young Diane Keaton, and maybe five minutes from the garden meeting of old cardinals who deliver a steady stream of exposition through catty gossip delivered between inhaler puffs. We know nothing about anyone before Lenny goes on his Cherry Coke Zero and Power rant, and it somehow tells us more about him than anything else in the episode. It’s perfect. I think that’s my point.

Also, I will be filing away “It’s death to settle for things” for future use in soft drink related matters, and I recommend you do, too. Specifically, it is my new reply when I ask for a Coke and the waitress replies “Pepsi okay?” I think it will help if I deliver while wearing one of those fancy papal sunhats.

3. It was all a dream…

It was very nice of this show to waste exactly zero seconds in telling us what it is, opening with a double dream sequence that featured 1) Jude Law crawling out of a literal pyramid of stacked-up nude babies, 2) two shots of Jude Law’s exposed papal buttocks, and 3) Jude Law delivering a big introduction speech that was so littered with progressive blasphemy that it made three cardinals faint in unison on the balcony.

I appreciated that. We’re all very busy right now, and there is really just entirely too much television to choose from. We don’t have time to sit around thinking “Hey, I wonder if this is the kind of show where Jude Law will dream that he can stop a thunderstorm by posing like Scott Stapp from Creed and then tell the adoring crowd that they should be whacking it more.” We need to know right away so we can make our decisions about what pop culture to make time for and what to avoid. Thank you, Young Pope, for respecting this.

2. Voiello takes an L

A very rough season premiere for Cardinal Voiello, who over the course of the first hour…

  • Saw his puppet steamroll him in savage fashion during their first meeting
  • Was forced to make coffee for the pope like some sort of servant
  • Got left hanging on an admittedly weak Proust joke
  • Was given Sister Mary as “a guardian angel,” which was Lenny’s polite way of calling him an ambiguous, unscrupulous man, and was followed by Lenny then just straight-up calling him “an ambiguous, unscrupulous man”
  • Was stripped of power and basically pantsed in the middle of the Vatican

Also, he was outed as a statue pervert.

Brutal day.

But that is not what I want to talk about. What I want to talk about is the mole. Look at that thing. I felt bad about how much it distracted me at first, because I was thinking about how tough it must be to land acting roles with something like that protruding from your left cheek, and how nice it is that he was able to get a high-profile one like this on a big fancy HBO series. But then I did a little Googling, and it turns out that the actor who plays Voiello, Silvio Orlando, does not, in fact, have a mole. Which means…


This is immediately fascinating to me. Possibly more fascinating than anything else on the show so far, which is really saying a lot and I don’t care because I stand by it. This mole being fake means that everything about it was a conscious decision. Someone probably spent hours looking through fake moles for the perfect one. Silvio Orlando probably had to sit in a chair in make-up for hours as people affixed them to his face, moles of many different sizes and shapes, placed in many locations around his head, until creator Paolo Sorrentino found a combination that he could live with. I picture Sorrentino throwing a tantrum, just shouting “Bigger, bigger!” at the make-up woman until she brought out the blackest, most melanoma-riddled mole she could work up over her lunch break, just as a joke, only to have Sorrentino examine it like a jeweler examines a diamond and then exclaim “Yes!”

Anyway, will we be keeping a close eye on this mole throughout the season, and possibly mapping it in case it moves ever so slightly between episodes? Yes. Yes we will.

1. The Young Pope is exactly what you thought it would be

Heck yeah.

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