REVIEW: Will, S1 Ep1 – The Play’s The Thing

Confession: I have no idea whether I loved or hated Will.

What I loved: the concept, the costumes, the pretty faces, the drama, and the Shakespeare of it all. What I hated: pretty much everything I just said I loved.

Confused yet? Me too.

Will is the highly fictionalized story of Shakespeare as a young man, who has come to London to find his fortune as an actor and a playwright. It’s an edgy, punk take on the Elizabethan era.

Punk rock Shakespeare is something that I never knew I wanted, but now I realize I need it desperately. Will’s introduction to London to the soundtrack of “London Calling” was almost perfect. In fact, through much of the first episode, I found myself favorably comparing the show to A Knight’s Tale. It had the same air of fun, and managed mostly perfect purposeful anachronisms.

The costumes are beautiful. The makeup is beautiful. I love the punk rock edge. But it was, at times, too jarring for me. I didn’t want to focus on why there were such odd costumes and wigs, I wanted to focus on the story. But I couldn’t. I love a good costume as much as the next girl, but I hate when I can tell it’s just a costume. When I watch a TV show, movie, or play, I don’t want to be reminded that I’m watching something that’s not real. Unfortunately, the costumes too often pulled me out of the moment. In those moments, the punk rock Elizabethan concept fell flat.

I’m one of those people who gets sucked into dramas about pretty people. I was addicted to Pretty Little Liars for quite a while. More recently, Riverdale became my newest obsession after watching only minutes of the pilot. In many ways, Will is doing exactly the same: the cast consists of beautiful young British men and women. It’s sexy, it’s literary, and it’s fun.

But then they had to bring in the drama. Will (Laurie Davidson) and Alice Burbage (Olivia DeJonge), daughter of actor and carpenter James Burbage, have immediate chemistry. It’s all well and good until you remember that mere minutes earlier, at the beginning of the episode, Will was a husband and doting father of three. In my opinion, the whole “forbidden romance” and cheating storyline is just a cheap trick, and every time I see it repeated I’m tempted to turn off my tv. The fact that the show is that desperate for sensationalized drama so early on does not bode well.

Luckily episode one set up the promise of plenty more drama than just that. Though the show isn’t entirely historically accurate, it does include some actual historical nods. Destitute conditions of the poor in London and Protestant persecution of Catholics like Will are two big concepts that are definitely pushed throughout the first episode. I’m looking forward to where they’ll go with these ideas.

The show certainly isn’t keeping the historical Christopher Marlowe in close mind, but after only one episode, he is the character that makes me think the most. I actually want to know what’s going on inside his head, where he’s been, and where he’s going, a testament to Jamie Campbell Bower’s talent and skill.

Luckily, the writers didn’t forget that this is a show about Shakespeare, a man who really knows how to make words work for him. Perhaps the greatest moment of the first episode was when Will was with his new friends at a tavern after the rehearsal of his play. Greene (Bruce Mackinnon), another playwright, mocks Will for being a simple country boy. They end up battling it out – with words. It’s essentially a rap battle, but entirely in iambic pentameter. And it was beautiful just to listen to.

Unfortunately, one thing that I am totally decided on is the Shakespeare of it all. Like I said, I love the idea of punk Shakespeare. What I don’t love is entirely changing everything that is Shakespeare to make it steamier or edgier. Shakespeare is plenty edgy and steamy on his own – his story doesn’t need the TV fantasy makeover that TNT gave it in Will.

Were this just a story about a fictional aspiring actor/playwright in Elizabethan England with a punk rock twist, I would have fewer bones to pick. Unfortunately, the creators chose one of the most recognizable names out there – certainly one of the best known real people from that era. By choosing to tell a fictional story about a real man, the showrunners painted a giant target on their show – and are currently suffering the well-written wrath of Shakespeare buffs.

I’m definitely going to keep watching Will, if only to find out how I really feel about it. What did you think? Did you love it, hate it, or are you somewhere in the middle like me?

Will airs Mondays at 9 eastern on TNT. You can download the first episode from iTunes for free here.

Tags: ,