Marco Polo is a new Netflix original series, all episodes are currently available for streaming. The series is clearly targeted at the Game of Thrones audience, but seems to miss the mark a bit, let me explain.
The show follows Marco Polo as he finds himself in the court of Kublai Khan through a rather unfortunate turn of events. He becomes a member of the court and even manages to gain the respect of the Khan. The Mongols are preparing to attack the Chinese and both sides are doing their best to be sure they come out on top.
I really wanted to like this show, it’s such an interesting part of history that is so often ignored. Even the great John Milius began a Ghengis Khan movie, reportedly still in the works. But this show doesn’t quite live up to the grandeur and the barbarism that the subject matter demands. Oh there are some brutal scenes and some gorgeous landscapes, but it never manages to really hit home.
I loved to palace intrigue of The Tudors, as well as the viciousness of Game of Thrones. This show offers neither, but it tries really hard. The cast does quite well, the costuming and set design are great, and the battle scenes aren’t too bad (for TV). But what is missing is a compelling story, or should I say a well written compelling story. There are many characters and story lines that would have been enough for a series, but they aren’t fleshed out enough. This leaves the whole thing feeling like a case of great potential but poor execution. I really wanted to love this show, but I just couldn’t.
To add to the mediocre writing it also seems to be trying to see what it can get away with. The nudity is excessive, but the violence isn’t. The ruthless history of the Khans should imply the opposite. The blind Kung Fu master who trains Marco is great, but feels very out of place. Why can he do flying back flips in this historical drama? The whole show suffers from this disjointed feel. Any one of the stories/character would be great, but together they just don’t quite work.
What I do like about this show has nothing to do with the show itself. Netflix has its sights set on HBO. They have done great things with House of Cards and Orange is the New Black. Marco Polo should help to bring in some of the same audience that regularly tunes into HBO on Sunday nights. I hope that Netflix keeps pushing. The more competition the better the product for us to enjoy.
In the end if you enjoyed The Tudors or Game of Thrones you may enjoy Marco Polo as well. Just don’t expect the same brilliance you found in those two. As for me, I’ll be patiently waiting for John Milius to bring the Khans to the screen.