Da Vinci’s Demons – Pilot Review: Sherlock Holmes Meets Assassin’s Creed
The initial trailer for this show left me a bit indifferent and the concept didn't seem engrossing either. However, Boss and Spartacus were both very good shows, for very different reasons, so I figured I should give Starz’ new series a chance. We often write TV reviews here with full spoilers, but none will be in this review for the show’s pilot. I mention it being Sherlock Holmes and Assassin’s Creed in the title because those are the two overwhelmingly similar properties that come to mind. By Sherlock Holmes, I am mainly referring to the Guy Ritchie/Robert Downey Jr. movies, sorry BBC Sherlock fans. Here da Vinci is displayed as a self-destruct genius who’s ahead of his time, sarcastic, narcissistic, and they both love opium! I’m not a history buff, so I can’t say if da Vinci was actually some great swordsman or not, but that inclusion was surprising.
The character himself is somewhat interesting, but does feel a bit “been there, done that”. Of course, it has only been one episode, so it really depends on if he’ll have range between being a sarcastic genius and troubled person. The setting of the show feels real and a lot of dirty as well as possibly entertaining politics happen in this era, so even though Showtime’s The Borgias is in the same basic time period, they hopefully won’t step on each others toes too much. A bad habit that all the premium channels have nowadays is gratuitous nudity and sexuality. If a sex scene develops a character or plotline, then go ahead, but did we really need to see several scenes with old guys walking around and just lounging while nude? Thanks a lot for those scenes Starz!
While the setting is believable and feels alive, da Vinci looks too modern, and surprisingly, he’s the only character so far that has this problem. He has a perfectly groomed beard, a tailored leather jacket, and he clearly goes to the same hair stylist as Adam Levine. The only problem I would mention for the overall world is why do time period shows always have to use British accents? It’s not a problem specific to this series, since Rome, Spartacus, and The Borgias are all taking place in today’s Italy (for the most part), so does Hollywood think our brains would explode if the characters spoke with Italian accents rather than British? Some might say that’s nitpicking, but I would disagree. Sure, realistically they wouldn’t be speaking English to begin with, but Italian or accents other than British would be welcomed sometimes.
The other closest resemblance this show has is the video game franchise Assassin’s Creed. All of the games take place during different times, but three of them are in this time period, this location, and feature some of the same families and even characters such as da Vinci himself. The show has only hinted at it, but there seems to be two secret organizations fighting each other, one trying to reclaim lost information to better the world, and the other seeking it to accumulate further power, which is another fundamental aspect of Assassin’s Creed.
It’ll be interesting to see how far the show wants to be historically accurate and realistic. There seems to be a fantasy or at least mystical undertone to what’s happening. I am all for the creators using historical characters and the setting to tell their own story. I was curious how a show like this could last for years, but with two factions fighting each other and possibly competing over da Vinci, as well as political moves that the show’s religious figures are making, there is enough content here.
Creating a successful pilot is no easy thing. It has to establish characters, a tone, and an entire world in under an hour and leave the viewer with enough interest and/or curiosity to tune in next week. While this episode isn’t a homerun, it does provide enough intrigue and entertainment to be a fun experience. If Starz hopes to have another hit and eventually be able to compete with Showtime and HBO, then this needs to be beyond “just enjoyable”, and be something amazing. The problems that were in this episode are easily fixable, so the fate of the show’s quality is still very much up in the air.