Once ‘Mad Men’ Ended, Matthew Weiner Wondered What Happened to the Romanoffs After They Ended. Or Didn’t.
Amazon paid a whole lot of money to snag The Romanoffs, Matthew Weiner’s first project since Mad Men.
The Romanoffs delivers.
The first two episodes become available starting Friday on Amazon Prime, and the remaining six episodes will roll out weekly.
Weiner is in fine form as a storyteller, and beyond that, the whole thing looks gorgeous. It would have made a spectacular Masterpiece Theater series, except that the language is a little spicier than PBS prefers and oh yes, it was also probably priced out of PBS’s range.
The Romanoffs takes off from the quirky but inspired premise that a hundred years after most of the Russian royal family was murdered by revolutionaries, various third- and fourth-generation descendants are still scattered around the globe.
Weiner, who is in total control of this show as creator, writer, director, producer and probably pastry chef while he’s at it, has crafted eight stand-alone stories, each focusing on a different descendant or presumed descendant.
With actors from Marthe Keller, Dermot Mulrooney, Amanda Peet and Diane Lane to Jack Huston, Griffin Dunne and Isabelle Huppert, not to mention a number of his old Mad Men regulars, Weiner has an A-list repertory company with which to work.
The first episode, titled “The Violet Hour,” features Keller as Anushka, who lives in an elegant apartment in Paris and is spending her sunset years primarily in the company of her spoiled dog.
She has one living relative that she knows of, American-born nephew Greg Moffat (Aaron Eckhart). He seems to be a decent enough fellow, reasonably attentive to the cranky, demanding, judgmental, prejudiced and unfiltered Anushka.
Greg’s French girlfriend Sophie (Louise Bourgoin) has less patience. She wants the old lady gone so she and Greg can inherit that great big apartment.
This dynamic could potentially go on for years, except the agency Greg has hired to find Anushka a caregiver sends over a young Muslim woman named Hajar (Ines Melab).
Anushka slams the door in her face, telling her she wanted “a caregiver, not a terrorist.”
Things go uphill from there, though it wouldn’t make very good television if everyone just lived happily ever after. Dramas soon develop that involve changes of heart and realizations about what really matters and all that kind of stuff.
Yes, that all sounds pretty vague. But Weiner has an almost pathological aversion to spoilers, and when he assures us that we should trust him to deliver the goods with few preview glances, he’s not lying. Here as with Mad Men, he comes through.
We can say this: We’ve seen the bones of these dramas before. What sets The Romanoffs apart is what set Mad Men apart: Weiner’s eye and ear for the nuances of human conversation and connection.
The Romanoffs runs almost an hour and a half per episode, and it doesn’t need nearly that long to tell its story. But we don’t regret a moment of it, because Weiner uses that time to let the story breathe. Characters talk to each other for two, three, five minutes at a time, which is unheard of in most television drama. Sometimes they say nothing at all.
Characters get to know each other, which is also a wonderful thing for the actors, and we feel like we get to know them. It’s not only the characters who come to new understandings. So do we.
Meanwhile we’re also seeing beautiful backdrops, from the streets of Paris to rooms with cathedral ceilings and light pouring through velvet drapes. The cinematography portion of Amazon’s budget has been well spent.
The Romanoffs joins The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, in particular, as a reason why, no matter how much TV you think you already have, Amazon Prime is worth adding.
It’s also a reminder that we’ve missed Matthew Weiner.