The much-touted Will—early promotions alluded it it as Shakespeare with Sex, Drugs, and Rock 'n' Roll—debuts tonight on TNT. But if you can't wait, you can watch it right here, right now. Note: You can watch the first of the two episodes that will debut tonight; you'll have to watch the other live.
I've been watching it in bits and pieces since early this morning. Without risking spoilers, here are some things the show made me think about.
Although the beginning seems to be the usual country-lad-comes-to-the-big-city narrative (one that's a bit heavy on crypto-Catholic plots), it still has some interest. First, there's more color in this than in most 1590s London recreations. And that first vision of London is accompanied by The Clash's "London Calling," a very effective choice for setting the stage.
A Sampling of the Colours of London in the 1590s
We also have a street urchin who offers to guide the Country Bumpkin Will around the city. He seems very much like a Puck figure.
The show gives us some lines from Edward III, a play by Thomas Kyd (with, quite conceivably, some help from Shakespeare) that was first published in 1596. Shakespeare declaims the lines to Burbage Senior's daughter:
We get some "upstart crow" and some "Shakeshaft," and, in a scene reminiscent of Shakespeare in Love, we get a scene where Burbage promises the audience a new play by Christopher Marlowe entitled Tamburlane's Ghost. We get Kit Marlowe, spy, searching for secret Catholics. And we get a poetry slam between Shakespeare and (I'm pretty sure) Greene.So, John of France . . .
Had you done at first as now you do,
How many civil towns had stood untouched
That now are turned to ragged heaps of stones!
How many people's lives mightst thou have saved
That are untimely sunk into their graves!
There's also a scene where an actor keeps asking "What am I holding the mirror up to?" that becomes both comic and touching.
Will on Stage
The main artistic critique I have may just be in the nature of a first episode of a series: things wrap up too tidily. The poetry slam is won pretty handily; a play that is about to fail is rescued very neatly.
Additionally, historical accuracy is sacrificed for the sake of the drama. But it isn't as if Shakespeare didn't do that himself—constantly and continually!
All in all, it's an interesting show, well worth watching (though readers should note the rating). Give it a try tonight . . . or at the link above.
Note: More episodes have become available, and I'm less sanguine about the show. It's a very dark show, with an unseemly emphasis on torture. It also presents Kit Marlowe as increasingly weird and psychotic. Also, despite a good bit of Midsummer Night's Dream in a later episode, there's not enough Shakespeare!
Links: The Show at IMDB. A review by the New York Times. The show at TNT.