July 11, 2017

SHOWBUZZDAILY Series Premiere Review: “Will”


WILL:  Monday 9PM on TNT – If Nothing Else Is On…

TNT’s WILL, a gloss on the early life of William Shakespeare (and an unacknowledged one on the movie Shakespeare In Love), would seem like an extreme oddity if we hadn’t just had ABC’s Romeo & Juliet gloss Still Star-Crossed, which has already been sent to pasture on Saturday nights.  Will doesn’t seem likely to fare much better, although as Shakespearean primetime series go, it has a bit more ambition.

Will‘s claim to coolness is that its creator is Craig Pearce, a frequent collaborator with Baz Luhrmann (including on his Miami-set Romeo & Juliet), and the production is at pains to link the rough-and-tumble world of Elizabethan theatre with the punk rock era, through songs on the soundtrack and costume and hair choices.  But Luhrmann’s own efforts turn into cacophony half the time, and that’s true of Will as well, especially since those stylistic efforts have been grafted onto a fairly conventional story.

Like Shakespeare In Love, Will takes place during the early days of Shakespeare’s arrival in London, a period that’s mostly a historical blank, which allows for plenty of artistic license.  In this telling, Will (Laurie Davidson) is a budding playwright who leaves his wife and three young children to seek his destiny, and almost immediately finds a place with the motley theatre company of James Burbage (Colm Meaney), who just happens to have a gorgeous and headstrong daughter, Alice (Olivia DeJonge, for all intents and purposes playing Gwyneth Paltrow).  The main drama in the opening two episodes (both written by Pearce), however, comes from the intrigue that ensues when Catholic Will is robbed of the letter to his renegade priest relative by an urchin who tries to earn a reward (to free his sister from a brothel) by turning him in to the evil Protestant torture-meister Richard Topcliffe (Ewen Bremner).  This embroils Will with the amoral Christopher Marlowe (Jamie Campbell Bower) who, recognizing Will’s promise as a playwright, betrays someone else from the company to Topcliffe, with tragic results.

There’s plenty going on in Will, particularly when one adds in the backstage hijinks endemic to any stage tale, and director Shekhar Kapur, who helmed both of the opening episodes, keeps it all colorful and bustling.  But as is often the case in the work Pearce has done with Luhrmann, there’s no depth to be found, and neither Pearce nor Kapur have Luhrmann’s intermittent genius with exaggeration.  As much as characters keep praising young Will’s brilliance, as written and performed here, he seems callow and thin, even if he does constantly quote plays he hasn’t written yet.  Bremner is a cartoon villain, and there’s something a bit distastefully retro about the oily, treacherous Marlowe being the story’s only gay character.  DeJonge fares best in the story’s most likable role, along with Mattias Inwood as Burbage’s vain actor son, and one hopes Pearce will find more for Colm Meaney to do.

It would be ridiculous to compare Craig Pearce to Shakespeare, or even to Tom Stoppard and Marc Norman, who wrote Shakespeare In Love, but a project like this asks for it, and the fact is that Pearce hasn’t located the drama in his characters or rich setting.  He’s assembled a lot of incident, and a half-hearted spin on the timelessness of it all, but his screenplay, so far, isn’t the thing.



About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."