HEAVY RESTS THE HEAD WITH NO CROWN : on the Amazon series THE ROMANOFFS (2018)

Matthew Weiner’s post Mad Men enterprise is buoyed by his cross continental, classical style and exquisitely typical millennial fixation on identity – especially the one affixed with roots in royalty. Now that’s an interesting premise in a culture that continues to dig deep into the fossilized world of erstwhile queens and kings , a legacy which is now historically tenuous . I am excited talking about it in the first place and by the fact that it’s miles apart from the competitive embers of television’s binge watching parameters. First things first : it’s not a period retread of the mighty empire that ruled for three centuries and had all the intrigue that dynasties of any kind do. So this show presents the flipside, an antithesis to the glories and riches of times gone by.

Creatively, this central conceit makes sense since it’s about a group of people who claim to have antecedents of the Romanov dynasty from Russia. The authenticity or lack of it regarding this tall claim proves beneficial here as the same Don Draperesque mood central to Mad Men presents itself handsomely, where nobody is exactly who they claim to be. The mundane devolution of these personages in THE ROMANOFFS is, in turn, ripe for these individual vignettes to tackle race, personality clashes, matrimonial alliances and entertainment world’s tightrope walks around the real and the recreated timelines. It’s the other side of THE CROWN- the anonymity and comfort of home and associates matter most, down to the most common motifs of our diurnal lives and THE ROMANOFF halo is almost like an afterthought. So subtle and effective is Weiner’s deft touch, it brings a refreshing sensibility to the very expanding nucleus of prestige television / artistic medium that he helped redefine with my favourite work MAD MEN.

It’s a gift that he compromises with no single aspect and, in a neat eight episode miniseries format, is able to devote close to 90 minutes to the resolution within a single tale. So far THE ROMANOFFS has aired three episodes in its weekly run on Fridays starting from 12th October and each has stood out for me, beginning with the opening credits that recreate the most pivotal aspect of the Romanov name- the deadly assassination at the hands of the Bolsheviks of the whole family around 1918, quite like what transpired for the Nepalese monarchy as recently as the early 2000s – followed by a trail of blood going around photographs of the family and concluding with the city crowd that could be anywhere, with a Tom Petty song harping on the term refugee in all its implications of distance from a once hallowed history; of what could have been for the commoners who allegedly descend from blue bloods and continue to live with the trappings of everyday , no matter how hard they try to blend their roots with the mainstream that does not care much for the monarchy other than as an archaic, non democratic construct. In fact, that distance is present in the people who claim to be direct descendants here. There’s a world out there that is more affecting, wide and complex for them.

*****

In the next post, I will write about the quality of the three episodes and what they convey. All I can say is, don’t compare it with the precedent set by Mad Men – a surefire classic- because it didn’t matter to me. What it offers is novelty and the eye for detail, with Matthew taking on triple duties as writer, director and creator. The realism accentuated by the performers is another salient feature.

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