Despite its esteemed Elizabethan pedigree behind the camera, the July 10-debuting Will on TNT is not the stuff of which Peak TV stardust is made. With a late-20th century soundtrack and grand ambitions to tell the punkish tale of William Shakespeare’s arrival in 16th century London in search of fame and a platform for his writing, the series created by Craig Pearce is mediocre and easily forgettable, as I say in my video review above.
Fronted by newcomer Laurie Davidson as the 24-your-old straight outta Stratford-upon-Avon Bard-to-be and wing-manned by Twilight Saga alum Jamie Campbell Bower as the riotous Christopher Marlowe, Will wants to be rock’n’roll but ends up much more MOR – even with David Bowie, the Clash and the Jam on the soundtrack.
Premiering with two episodes next week with Elizabeth helmer Shekhar Kapur directing, this effort from frequent Baz Luhrmann collaborator Pearce is burlier in scope than 1998’s charming and Oscar-winning Shakespeare In Love, which had its own take on the playwright’s beginnings. But it is less kinetic than the Pearce co-written Romeo + Juliet modernization from 1996 and less engaging than the 1978 UK series Will Shakespeare starring Rocky Horror’s Tim Curry as the young Bard and American Gods’ Ian McShane as Marlowe. Will covers pretty familiar great-man-coming-of-age stuff, in a pretty standard way.
Amid the religious and political intrigue of the Virgin Queen’s reign, decadence and rivalries (most of which are overwrought), it is fun to see Trainspotting’s Ewen Bremner as a villainous henchman to Elizabeth I, but his character’s sheer sadism wears that joy down quickly. Co-starring Olivia DeJonge, Colm Meaney, Jasmin Savoy Brown and Max Bennett as a controversial cousin of Shakespeare’s, the 10-episode first season of the show once at HBO and the now-shuttered Pivot before landing at TNT rarely reveals a method to its madness, to paraphrase a certain play from the real Will.
Will is, to quote directly from the Bard, “like a circle in the water, which never cease to enlarge itself, till, by broad spreading, it disperse to naught.”
Click on my video review above and see more of my take, then tell us, is this series the thing for you?