HBO’s “The Young Pope” was such an interesting and meme-worthy show but it left you with all sorts of unanswered questions.
You’re asking: What if this weren’t an HBO drama at all? What if it were a Netflix comedy called Robert Pope Leonard (RPL)?
What if Robert Sean Leonard (RSL), the American actor best known for his work in Dead Poets Society and House MD, played himself as the separated-at-birth, gay, Jewish identical twin of the newly elected (do they get elected?) pope? What if he had to abandon his promising Broadway career and take on the role of a lifetime when his twin brother went mysteriously missing?
What if Bernadette Peters is his lesbian best friend who joins him in Rome by going undercover as a nun? Oh and lastly, what if Laura Linney played Johanna, Bernadette’s girlfriend who is kind of pissed at her because Bernadette totally promised she would finally stop making Johanna share her with The Stage and they would live happily ever after but now she’s playing nun in the Vatican?
“What then?” you shriek.
“What the fuck then? Like what fucking then???” you cry.
We’re here to answer those pressing questions with a few excerpts from Season 1 of Robert Pope Leonard.
We open in the VATICAN. Two cardinals pace nervously in front of gilded doors. CARDINAL #1 is narratively unimportant but politically significant. CARDINAL #2 exists almost solely for exposition and comic relief.
CARDINAL #3 bursts through the door. He is the Secretary of State, Frank underwood mixed with Sweeney Todd. He is panting to convey his urgency even though he has made no physical exertion.
CARDINAL #3, still panting: It’s true. He’s really gone. No one can know this.
CARDINAL #2: Now would be such a good time for the Pope to have an identical twin who could play the Pope for a while until we figure out what has happened to him, thereby avoiding the collapse of the church. It would be additionally helpful if he happened to be a Tony award winning actor.
CARDINAL #3: For completely normal and non-villainous reasons, I happen to know of just such a gay, Jewish, actor twin. I have sent the Catholic Secret Service to collect him from New York.
CARDINAL #1: A Jew?? Quel scandale! What would St. Peter say?
CARDINAL #2: But wasn’t…St. Peter Jewish?
SMASH CUT TO: RPL (jewish, actor, gay, tired, not much of a traveler) as JUDAS ISCARIOT on the Broadway Stage in a production of JESUS CHRIST SUPER STAR. He is long lost twin of lost pope.
RPL singing, as JUDAS: Listen Jesus to the warning I give, please remember I want us to live…
RPL shifts awkwardly, not quite able to meet Steven’s eyes. Steven is a random cardinal he’s only known for like a week while he’s been pretending to be the Pope but he’s never felt this way before. Not even when the actor who played the Gay Dad in Mamma Mia! kissed him at his first Broadway afterparty and he got an average-to-good review the next day for his role as the straight boyfriend.
“You ever had…a secret you wanted to share with someone but couldn’t because of…your duty? Something you know you should confess but haven’t?” he asks in a gay wistful way that makes him sound very burdened.
He finally meets Steven’s eyes, expecting to see a look of confusion or disappointment there. The Pope is not supposed to have dark secrets, after all. But Steven is smiling mischievously.
“Sometimes, I steal communion wine and make a drinking game if CARDINAl #3’s little lectures go on for too long,” he whispers, sotto voce. RPL knows a few Shakespeare type guys who would kill for Steven’s sotto voce.
They both burst into laughter.
“Holy Father must promise not to tell on me,” Steven says, the laughter still in his voice.
Something aches between them.
“I promise,” RPL replies softly, barely holding back from leaning in and kissing Steven on the actual mouth.
JOHANNA (who is played by Laura Linney): First it was, “Oh I’ll stop after we do this revival of A Little Night Music.” And then it was, “Well, no one else can play Dot like I can.” Oh and let’s not forget, “I’ve always wanted to be a teacher but as a teacher I just make them all sit there and watch me do my greatest hits for hours.” I’m tired of being the other woman. I can’t go on like this. I can’t share you with…(great anguish) the theatre.
LESBIAN BERNADETTE (who is played by Bernadette Peters): Don’t say that! I love you. I’d do anything for you but I need to–
JOHANNA: You need to keep acting, LB. And I won’t ask you to stop. (With great effort.) But I can’t. I can’t anymore.
LB: This isn’t about theatre. Bobby is our friend and he’s being carted off to live with Catholics. With Catholics, Jo! Would you have him do it alone? The poor boy can barely steam up broccoli. Remember when you had to teach him?
They recall the memory fondly and forget, for a moment, that they’re having a fight, that JOHANNA is leaving. But then LB goes ahead and ruins it by insisting–
LB: I’m just helping a friend, Jo. Our friend.
JOHANNA, laughing bitterly: Wake up, babe! This ain’t about Bobby. The Church is the birthplace of theatre and fooling the Vatican into thinking you’re a nun is the greatest role of your lifetime. You’ll get the first ever Tony for playing a real life role, I’m sure. Break a leg. You’re gonna dazzle them.
LB: Please. Jo! Jo! I love you.
They FREEZE for a moment. JOHANNA, in sweatpants, half-way out the door, carrying a mishmash of her belongings in a Trader Joe’s tote bag. LESBIAN BERNADETTE still wearing the black Versace gown and dazzling jewelry she wore to the opening night of JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR.
JOHANNA, softly: Call me when you love being with me more than you love being someone else.
CARDINAL #2: Holy Father, are you saying that you are reversing…the Church’s longheld stance on abortion?
RPL, tired: I’m comparing my whole family to Ellen Page from the movie Juno, is what I’m doing.
LB: I love the aesthetics of this. It’s just like The Sound of Music, which I never got around to doing. Oh these dresses are so good! I just want to twirl and sing all about the hills.
NUN #1: Sister Bernadette, I beg of you. It is silent prayer time. Like every other time here, it is time for praying silently.
LB: Right, oh my god. I can totally do method. I promise.
REPORTER: And the Church’s new focus on poverty? Was that inspired by any particular part of scripture?
CARDINAL #1, coughing meaningfully: They speak to you, Holy Father?
RPL: Oh, right. Well, whenever I see someone less fortunate than I…and let’s face it, who isn’t less fortunate than I? My tender heart tends to start to bleed…
REPORTER: Why is that familiar? Why does it make me feel… fun?
Note: With thanks to the whole crew for this thing we created and an apology to the man himself for missing his East Coast birthday. It’s still his birthday over here though.