TV gets good : Da Vinci’s Demons

I don’t own a TV.

Seriously. In this day and age I don’t own a television set. I used to till a couple of years ago. But I tossed that out. It was huge, bulbous and annoyed the living crap out of me. I’d found myself really watching less and less quality and the set becoming basically this background noise machine that occasionally I would focus on and then relentlessly curse at because of the utterly insane number of annoying ad’s to be suffered through near-constantly. Being in India where local programming is for shit and we only get the occasional decent show here and that also no guarantee of continues airing.

Man can fly!!

But then I was introduced to viewing online. It allowed me to pick and choose, to try out, to follow and most importantly – not to be bombarded with viscerally aggravating commercials every couple of minutes. The single biggest plus point? I started to notice that while the quality of movies has dropped with more and more people wanting cheap escapism and studio interference and mandates with those huge budgets becoming a constant annoyance – TV had silently started to churn out some serious quality! From Game of Thrones which has been a phenomenon to other shows like Utopia, Black Mirror (reviewed soon!), Louie, Hunted, Boss, Castle, Person of Interest, Continuum, Defiance… the list is HUGE and the quality of episodic story-telling has undergone a sea-change with TV studios seeming to have a great deal more faith in these creators and performers and many of the audiences having matured and the show-runners realising that and growing with them. Substance is finding it’s footing amidst the sea of style and pandering.

DVD AdOne such show that has started so very recently and has fast become a personal MUST-WATCH for me is Da Vinci’s Demons.

I can already hear the groans and moans of the intellectual elite at the use of Da Vinci as his name – get over it. And if you can’t get over this little detail, then you better just steer clear of this little gem of creative joy before it pops your elite neurons! Anyway, relax, in the show itself he is always “Leonardo”.

The title alone can give you pause and reason to wonder about what this show could be – the obvious to most will be that it is about Leonardo Da Vinci, one of the most well-known faces in human history and an idol of millions. Artist, engineer, craftsman extraordinaire – he was truly a renaissance man, though probably best known to most as the man who painted the Mona Lisa and her famous enigmatic smile.

The show airs on the Starz channel and is a collaboration between Starz and BBC Worldwide under a new co-production agreement formed after the production of Torchwood: Miracle Day.

What I love about this show? There is the obvious that they’ve gone all out on production values and visual brilliance – such as showing how Leonardo watches the world around him and see’s the details of things, the physics, the dynamics, the details within the details. It is a wonderful glimpse into the mind of a genius attempting to do that which the rest of us only imagine.

But more than that, it is a reimagining of history. Drawing from all aspects of actual history as well as rendering it’s own liberal mix – such as a young Niccolò Machiavelli as his apprentice and the fact that Leonardo (Tom Riley) is a strapping young man, getting into sword fights and dominating as an ambidextrous master of the blades. There are also explosions, and naked women as well as a great deal more because as the first episode establishes, there is history and then there is HISTORY – the latter being the truth that shall never make it into the records because some things are not meant to be so and thus this series sets the stage for it’s free-rein on adventure and wild imagination.

DDS1_LMedici_194x301This fictionalized account of da Vinci’s youth examines how he transitioned from being the most talented artist in Florence to a skillful war engineer. It also tackles his relationships with his colleagues/accomplices, his employers (the ruling Medici family), and all the adoring women in his time. As it turns out, Da Vinci is not only a brilliant artist but also an innovative inventor, a playboy, and a huge arse. He knows that he is more intelligent than most, if not all, of the people during that time, and he often uses it to his amusement and advantage – as well as ours.

Like old favourites of mine (and criminally under-appreciated) The Adventures of Brisco County Jr. and Jack of All Trades, not to mention the 90’s favourites Xena and Hercules, this show has an irreverent sense of history and has fun with it! Though nowhere near as light-hearted as either of these – in fact I’d call this show a cross between these and the super-brutally real Spartacus (also from the good folks at Starz), this show toes a fine line between flights of fancy and whimsy and a dark, gritty reality of that time and place.

The show was conceived and written by David S. Goyer who already has a solid (and deserved) following after his work on movies like Christopher Nolan‘s The Dark Knight trilogy, Blade I & II (the good ones!) Flash Forward as well as several acclaimed comics and of course the highly anticipated new movie, Man of Steel.

Unlike the American system of 13-24 episode seasons, this show seems to be following a more British format with only a mere eight episodes having been commissioned for the series’ first season. The good news is that it’s already been confirmed for a second season and as of recently, two of my favourite writers from the comic world have been brought on board for the second season.

Laura Haddock as Lucrezia Donati, the mistress of Lorenzo Medici and lover of Leonardo da Vinci.

Toss in the fact that the series’ score is composed by Bear McCreary (Battlestar Galactica, Eureka, Walking Dead) and there’s no way I’m not following this and all I can say is that if you like some of shows I’ve referenced and are at all open to dipping toes in this pool of crazy – do it. You won’t regret it.


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