Welcome to Pilot Perception, our feature in which we break down the first episode of each new show in order to help you decide whether it’s worth your time.
The Show: Da Vinci’s Demons, Starz in the U.S., Fridays at 10/9c
(Note: Super Channel will start airing the show in Canada in June.)
The Pedigree: The show was created, written, and executive produced by David S. Goyer (The Dark Knight trilogy, FlashForward). He also directed the first two episodes. Julie Gardner (Doctor Who, Torchwood) and Jane Trantor (Rome, Torchwood) are also executive producing.
The Cast & How You Know Them: Tom Riley (Lost in Austen) stars as Da Vinci. The cast also includes Laura Haddock (Upstairs Downstairs), Blake Ritson (World Without End), Elliot Cowan (Sinbad), Lara Pulver (True Blood), Gregg Chillin (Being Human), Hera Hilmar (Anna Karenina), Eros Vlahos (Game of Thrones), James Faulkner (Borgia), Alexander Siddig (Deep Space Nine), and newcomer Tom Bateman.
The Premise: Young Leonardo Da Vinci must navigate the complicated social, political, religious, and artistic worlds of Renaissance Florence as he tries to free his own genius and fight against the people in power who are suppressing the truth.
What Works: This pilot was tons of fun, all pretty clothes and swashbuckling and magical inventions and secret societies. I thoroughly enjoyed it, even when I wasn’t entirely sure what was going on (see below). I’m not sure it really matters whether the viewer understands the political maneuverings, anyway. It’s a very attractive, colorful show with a fun score and interesting effects and animation sprinkled in to show the way Da Vinci’s mind is working.
What Doesn’t: Viewers looking for a straightforward historical drama will be disappointed – this show really isn’t even trying to do that, and the history is not particularly faithful. That said, the focus on a real historical figure means that the show is very much set in a particular time and place, and the viewer is thrown right into a complicated political situation involving the Sforza and Medici families without much explanation. Even for someone who knows the basics of the history (though I’m certainly not an expert), it was a little confusing. It would have been better if they had either simplified it or explained what was going on.
Our Favorite Line: “Unfortunately, I have this character flaw that compels me to intervene whenever stupidity rears its head.”
You Might Like This if you like historical fiction that focuses on fun rather than authenticity and doesn’t take itself too seriously. This reminded me less of other historical shows and more of a Renaissance fair alchemically transformed into a weekly TV show. Relax and enjoy the ride!
If You’re Interested: Watch the pilot for free online or check your listings for a rerun on Starz. Then set your DVR for next Friday at 10/9c.
(Photo courtesy of Starz.)