TNT’s eagerly awaited (by some) rock-and-roll version of Shakespeare’s “lost years” debuts beginning at 9 tonight with two episodes of “Will.”
The lost years … the seven-year period between 1585 (when his twins were born) to 1592 (when Robert Greene called him an “upstart crow” when mentioned as part of the London theater scene. There are no historical traces that survive to show exactly where he was or why he left Stratford for London.
Although the greatest poet in the English language died 401 years ago, we are still staging his plays, talking about his impact on the world, quoting famous lines, watching new work with new interpretations of his life, including this summer’s controversy over The Public Theater’s Shakespeare in the Park production of “Julius Caesar” with a title character that resembled President Trump.
Craig Pearce, who wrote the screenplay for Baz Lurhmann’s “Romeo + Juliet.” wrote the pilot and is the executive producer the the 10-episode first season, which indicates a future if the ratings are good. But will the funky approach draw millennials to live theater, or even PBS, the TV station where Shakespeare shows up most often? Don’t hold your breath. But at least they may learn a few things about Shakespeare and the Elizabethan era to make the effort worthwhile.
“It’s 1589. Young Will Shakespeare (Laurie Davidson), provincial actor and aspiring scribe, attractively lean and hungry for fame, heads off to the bawdy big city of London, leaving wife and children behind, as the Clash’s “London Calling” plays on the soundtrack.”
Some parts of the show are thoroughly enjoyable, including a battle of pentametric wits between Shakespeare, slow to earn the respect of his thespian cohorts, and Christopher Marlowe. Here, Marlowe is reimagined as not only Shakespeare’s worthy poetic rival but an admirer, too.
But Will would be more successful had it been crafted like another vaguely biographical series, Netflix’s The Crown, with characterization, patience and restraint rather than ribaldry and maximalism.
“Will” is truly the breakfast cereal commercial of Shakespeare — it’s sugary and colorful and very, very bad for you, but irresistible, especially if you’ve tasted something like this before. For anyone with even a nugget of leftover Shakespeare knowledge from high school, Will can be wicked summer fun. Really. Lines like “Seems like your play is quite the thing!” are so heinous, they’re genius.