The Young Pope is already proving to be one of the most polarizing shows of 2017. The 10-episode series, which premieres Sunday and has already been picked up for a second season overseas, is a surreal, subversive and incredibly weird drama starring Jude Law as the titular young American pope Lenny Belardo. It also happens to be one of the best memes of the year.
During the show's panel at the Television Critics Association's winter previews on Saturday, Law explained that he didn't even know what a meme was, let alone the popularity of The Young Pope jokes on the internet, before he began doing American press for the drama a week ago.
"Having spent the last week both in New York and here [in Los Angeles] doing lots of press, I've become very aware," Law said. "But I was also, at the beginning of the week, completely unaware of what a meme was. Having become educated and now shown them, I've become very aware and I love them. They're very funny. They're very imaginative."
🎶i'm a bitch / i'm a lover / i'm the pope / only younger🎶— josh androsky🌹 (@ShutUpAndrosky) January 4, 2017
i told myself i wouldn't join in, but what the hell pic.twitter.com/3weotokQMn— bobby finger (@bobbyfinger) January 5, 2017
As to whether he was worried the meme-ification of The Young Pope would overshadow the actual show once it premieres, Law said he wasn't concerned. "I hope it will just provoke and prompt interest and intrigue," he explained. "Something [director Paolo Sorrentino] told me this week — one of the most exciting facts, I think, from the screenings in Europe was the high level of young people that got involved. I don't know if meme trends are reflective of young people's interests. But if it is, then I'm very excited."
To write The Young Pope off as nothing more than a meme factory would be a huge discredit to the drama, which is a uniquely provocative show that tackles important questions about faith, power and tensions between modernism and organized religion.
"Lenny is an orphan and really, at his heart, he's trying to understand this lack of love," Law said. "And a lot of the part he plays as Pope Pius is trying to understand that and understand his sense of solitude through his power."
"He's trying to understand his heart. He's trying to understand his faith," the actor continued. "I think what you're seeing is what he's always been doing, but now the spotlight is really on him. I think he imagined getting the top job, that he would have a direct line to the person who's guided him and seen him through a lonely existence — that's God — and the line is busy. So he has to work out how to answer these questions for himself.
The Young Pope premieres Sunday at 9/8c on HBO.