For months now Starz has been pushing Da Vinci’s Demons as the heir apparent ‘hit’ show taking the place of the now completed Spartacus. The show finally debuted after the Spartacus: War of the Damned series finale. Will it live up to the same level of greatness as Spartacus? I can safely tell you…it’s WAY too early to tell.
The show begins with the assassination of the Duke of Milan by agents of the current Pope, Sixtus IV. This is bad news for Lorenzo Medici (Cowan) the current ruler of Florence, Italy (where Da Vinci lives) as Milan was Florence’s closest ally in a tumultuous period of religious and political battles against Rome and its ally, Naples. We soon meet Leonardo Da Vinci…painter, inventor, engineer…and troublemaker. Leo has been hired by Medici to construct a mechanical dove to be flown during the climax of the Easter celebration. Unlike his predecessors whose doves were flown via a wire, Leo intends to construct a mechanical dove that flies under its own power.
We’re introduced to a dizzying array of supporting characters right off the bat: Nico, Leo’s assistant, Vanessa his model and muse; Zoroaster, Leo’s trusted friend who dabbles in grave robbery; Count Riaro, the pope’s nephew; Lucrezia Donati, Medici’s beautiful mistress; and Al Rahim, a mysterious Turk who gives Leo some cryptic advice. And that’s just scratching the surface. Da Vinci’s Demon’s may be following in Spartacus’s wake but it’s true influence comes from the Showtime series “the Borgia’s” as well as a liberal dose of influence from HBO’s “Game of Thrones”.
With Florence not having a standing army to defend itself, Leo manages to weasel his way into a meeting with Lorenzo Medici under the pretext of painting a portrait of his mistress. Leo uses the meeting to show Medici his designs for weapons of war. Renaissance Era weapons of mass destruction if you will. Meanwhile Leo’s father also works for Medici as his notary and relations between father and son are strained to say the least. His father warns him from getting too close to Medici and puts an exclamation point on his demand by having guardsmen beat him severely.
The most intriguing plotline of the debut was Leo’s meeting with Al Rahim in the old Roman ruins. He reveals that Leo is a member of a kind of mysterious hermetic order and urges him to try to find something called The Book of Leaves. This causes concern with the Pope who either doesn’t want the book found or wants to find it for himself. The show is a historical fantasy set within the late 1400’s and particularly against an event known as the Pazzi Conspiracy.
The set designs are one of the highlights and capture both the grandeur and the seediness of Florence. Most of the performances are strong particularly Elliot Cowan as Lorenzo Medici. Tom Riley is enjoyable as Leonardo Da Vinci although I’m guessing that the real life person probably wasn’t as big of a womanizer as the show is making him out to be.
While it might capture Spartacus’s fan base, Da Vinci’s Demons is a completely different show. While Spartacus relied on action and raw power and emotion, Da Vinci is more plot-driven with political and court intrigues. It might have thrown too much at the viewer for a debut show but all in all, it wasn’t too bad.