I recently watched season one of the Netflix original series Marco Polo. Overall, this period drama impressed me. I knew little about the historical Marco Polo and this period in Asian history. Plus it is nice to see such a racially diverse American TV show.
The show centers around Marco Polo, son of an Italian merchant, who travels to the East with his farther for the first time in the 13th Century. His farther subsequently gives Marco Polo to the famed Emperor Kublai Khan of the Mongol Empire as a servant, which, as we all know, isn’t very nice. Polo works to gain favor with the Great Khan and find a place as an outsider among the Mongols and Chinese.
This drama is visually stunning. The cinematography holds up to that of many modern shows of cinematic quality. The costumes and sets are also great, giving an authentic feel to the period and the character’s immediate surroundings. One issue I have, however, is a lack of wide, exterior shots, which would help give a stronger sell to the Chinese setting. The lack of establishing shots, not surprising, leads to a bit of a breakdown with regards to the setting. Marco Polo was an adventurer, travelling to a foreign land, yet you don’t see much of said foreign land in the show. Much of the series takes place inside, instead, and you don’t get a sense of the land the Khan is fighting for. Maybe they spent that portion of the budget on costumes and set dressing and cool weapon props instead.
So, just scanning the results of a Google search for Marco Polo it’s clear that critics have mixed reviews about this first season. The general consensus for the not so positive opinions seems to be that the story is slow and the dialogue is bad. I will agree that many lines are delivered a little clunky and insincere in the first few episodes. I’m not sure that the writing is necessarily bad though, many characters have accents and for some of the actors, English is not their first language, so I question whether the writers should have accounted for this a bit more. Also, there is A LOT of dialogue and it becomes a bit heavy on the exposition. As far as the slow plot development, I don’t agree and all those critics are just haters. That’s right. Haters. In fact, if anything I think the overall arch of the season was pushed a bit faster than necessary to get to the main event that takes place in the last episode. It’s more of a character drama and the characters develop well within each episode. Plus haven’t they seen Manhattan or Peaky Blinders or any other recent character centered period drama? They’re all slow! But that’s okay, learn the language of modern freakin’ television, people.
The last point I’d like to make on Marco Polo is… Marco Polo? Why is this show called Marco Polo? He does start the show off and forward the plot at the beginning, but only appears in about 25% of each episode. The show is about Kublai Khan. It should be called Kublai Khan… just saying. Regardless, the show is entertaining, lots of action and martial arts (think Crouching Tiger) and interesting characters. I kept watching through all ten episodes (within about a week) and hope for a second season.