April 11 (Bloomberg) -- With a Ziggy Stardust haircut and gym-rat pecs bursting through a punk-perfect leather jacket, the Leonardo of “Da Vinci’s Demons” could pass for a judge on “The Voice.”
That’s some Renaissance man.
More lighthearted (if no sillier) than “Spartacus,” the gladiator fest it’s replacing, “Demons” is a historian’s nightmare and an idler’s diversion.
Creator David S. Goyer (co-writer of the “Dark Knight” Batman movie trilogy) concocts an adventure yarn with dashes of the supernatural, tangles of Vatican conspiracy and low-end cable’s usual serving of sex and violence.
Young Leo borders on the superhuman. He can’t fly, but he’s no ordinary Giuseppe either. British actor Tom Riley makes no attempt to modify his natural accent while portraying Italy’s towering genius.
Confronted with a dilemma or a dangerous situation, Leonardo imagines intricate solutions (rendered onscreen in the artist’s instantly recognizable blueprint-style sketches).
Commissioned by the scheming Lorenzo Medici (Elliot Cowan) to design an Easter spectacular (and, covertly, new weapons) Da Vinci is drawn into the violent rivalry among city-states Florence, Milan and Rome.
Politics isn’t the half of it. A mysterious Turk (Alexander Siddig) pulls Leonardo into an ancient mystical order, attracting the attention of an equally mysterious and lethal faction of Vatican insiders.
Despite the obvious “Da Vinci Code” nods, the eight-part “Demons” aims closer to the playful spirit of the BBC’s better sci-fi time-jumper “Torchwood.” Riley’s roguish Leonardo is a robustly hetero take on John Barrowman’s sexually adventurous Captain Jack.
“Go peddle your wares to Botticelli,” says the artist to the male model who offers more than a pose. “He’s an easy mark.”
“Da Vinci’s Demons” debuts Friday, April 12, on Starz at 10 p.m. New York time; 9 p.m. on subsequent Fridays. Rating: **1/2
Sundance Channel’s engrossing new “Rectify” picks up on the drama of stories about the wrongfully incarcerated.
The six-episode drama -- the channel’s first wholly original scripted series -- launches April 22, but Sundance is sneak previewing the first two hours at art-house cinemas on April 16.
The confidence is understandable. “Rectify” is compelling and refreshingly ambitious in its narrative scope and unexpected, off-kilter moods.
Created and written by Ray McKinnon and produced by Mark Johnson and Melissa Bernstein (AMC’s “Breaking Bad”), “Rectify” turns that hoariest of crime-drama devices -- the small-town murder -- inside out.
After 19 years on death row for the rape and murder of his high school girlfriend, Daniel Holden (Aden Young) is freed when newly examined DNA evidence creates reasonable doubt.
A thoughtful, odd man made odder by years of isolation, Daniel returns to his Georgia hometown, baffling even supporters with his airy, Zen-like demeanor.
Within his family, reactions vary.
Daniel’s emotionally broken mother (J. Smith-Cameron) frets. A loutish stepbrother (Clayne Crawford) is suspicious, and a sweet-natured born again sister-in-law (an outstanding Adelaide Clemens) sees something almost holy in Daniel’s blank-faced depths.
The most captivating is headstrong Amantha (Abigail Spencer), the loyal sister who’s sacrificed everything to Daniel’s cause.
Even her love for a crusading young lawyer (Luke Kirby) must be kept secret, lest it muddy Daniel’s ongoing legal case: The prosecutor-turned-Senator (Michael O’Neill) who built his career on Daniel’s conviction is pressing for a retrial.
This Southern-fried Inspector Javert -- McKinnon’s biggest stumble -- is one drawl shy of “In the Heat of the Night.”
“Rectify” hardly needs the lily-gilding. After watching the four episodes sent to critics, I’m still not sure what happened to the murdered girl. I have my theories and, like Daniel, I’ve no intention of leaving these sticks until I know for sure.
“Rectify” airs Monday, April 22, on Sundance Channel at 9 p.m. New York time, and subsequent Mondays at 10 p.m. The two-hour premiere will be screened in select theaters on Tuesday April 16. Rating: ****
Several episodes into the second season of HBO’s deliciously profane political comedy “Veep,” star Julia Louis-Dreyfus, as Vice President Selina Meyer, learns that a thoughtless, expedient decision she’d casually made has had a tragic, far-flung consequence.
Soon enough, the situation -- involving a U.S. soldier -- will be played for the show’s signature dark humor. But in that initial moment, the crestfallen look on Louis-Dreyfus’ face is, of all things, poignant.
“Veep,” nearly as underappreciated as the channel’s recently canceled “Enlightened,” seems more plot-driven and emotionally shaded this year. Louis-Dreyfus has been given some terrific new foils to play against: Gary Cole and Kevin Dunn portray emissaries from the Oval Office forever thwarting the Veep’s power grabs.
“It’s so great talking to you,” Meyer snipes at Cole’s arrogant presidential strategist. “I love being close to the inaction.”
“Veep” airs Sunday, April 21, on HBO at 10 p.m. New York time. Rating: ***1/2
What the Stars Mean: ***** Fantastic **** Excellent *** Good ** So-So * Poor (No stars) Avoid
(Greg Evans is a critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)
Muse highlights include Jason Harper on the Porsche 911 and Lance Esplund on art.
To contact the writer on the story: Greg Evans at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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