The Young Pope is HBO’s delightfully absurd new drama that aims to finally answer the Church’s oldest question: What if the pope was a young, chain-smoking bully with a hot bod and a twisted thirst for power? Despite its prestige television presentation, the show is a lot more Twin Peaks than House of Cards. In the end, however, The Young Pope finds its closest spiritual companion in last year’s Suicide Squad.
Exploring the world of Vatican City through a series of church figures framed as gossipy, vindictive antiheroes, The Young Pope has a lot in common with the DC supervillain romp. Suicide Squad is explicitly a fantasy movie, but The Young Pope’s bizarre premise effectively puts it in that genre as well: The new pontiff is a 47-year-old with movie star good looks who references Daft Punk in casual conversation, loves Cherry Coke Zero and nonchalantly states that God lives in a duplex in the Big Dipper. Similarly, both works take themselves deadly seriously, while also understanding that whatever universe they inhabit is distant from the one we live in. And just like Suicide Squad, The Young Pope reveals a lot about the state of the world today.
Telling fantastical stories about how cruel narcissists unexpectedly gain and exploit power is especially relevant as we enter the era of President Donald Trump. Suicide Squad explores this phenomenon in a far less focused way than The Young Pope does. Nevertheless, Jared Leto’s unapologetically campy portrayal of the super-villainous Joker gains cultural relevance when you consider the tremendous success of the movie. Leto’s attempts at getting into the twisted mind of the Joker were more laughable than frightening—but the movie earned almost $750 million, so who’s laughing now?
As much as high-minded critics might not want to admit it, Suicide Squad was perhaps the most important film of 2016. We found ourselves (or at least I did) obsessed with the movie not in spite of its badness, but in celebration of it. Its success demonstrated that not only will people perennially love superhero camp, but that we’re more interested in villains than we are heroes.
If you liked Suicide Squad for its absurd portrayal of villainy in all forms, you’ll love The Young Pope. Artfully-crafted with (hey, just like Suicide Squad)
a soundtrack chock full of modern hits, the show takes its wacky premise so deeply seriously, fans of fantasy and science-fiction are sure to fall in love.
In io9's free-form meditation on Suicide Squad: the Extended Cut, Hudson Hongo writes, “We didn’t ask for this, but we didn’t really not ask for this either, so here we are. Suicide Squad: The Extended Cut is the movie 2016 deserves.” Similarly, The Young Pope is the TV show 2017 deserves.
Both are pieces of ridiculous pop culture that we can’t stop talking (and meme-ing) about. And while they each explore villainy in their own way—one with premium cable gloss, the other with Hot Topic cheese—together they usher us into a seemingly improbable world where the villains are flamboyant and often stupid, but nevertheless keep winning.