One year ago today a few of us (five of us to be exact) asked: What if we reimagine the HBO show The Young Pope as a Netflix show where Robert Sean Leonard plays a fictionalized version of himself, a semi-famous gay Jewish Broadway actor who discovers that he is the long-lost twin of the newly elected (but suddenly missing) Pope and then abandons his dream role in Jesus Christ Superstar to pose as the Pope at the behest of CARDINAL #3 (a Richard III-esque villain pretending he just wants Robert Pope Leonard (RPL) to pose as the Pope to avoid international upset until they find the real Pope but actually aiming to run the Vatican himself by manipulating RPL) and falls in love with a cardinal named Stephen while getting into misadventures with his friend Lesbian Bernadette Peters (LB) who is posing as a nun to help him get through this ordeal? For those of you who are unfamiliar, the answer to that question can be found here and here.
Now, in celebration of The Series of Unfortunate Collective Five-Person Headcanons that eventually led to this website…I share with you some never-before-seen peeks into everyone’s favourite centuries-old repressive institution and the camp theatrics unfolding within.
INT. THE VATICAN. DAY
[STANLEY TUCCI is sitting across from ROBERT POPE LEONARD, wearing a clearly fake (bright red) beard, but he is completely bald–no wig.]
STRAIGHT STANLEY TUCCI: you cad!! you liar! you ungrateful two-penny mime! I should have left you where I found you: getting typecast as gay english professors in student-written New York Fringe Festival plays!!!
DISEMBODIED NARRATOR (A LA ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT) WHO IS ONLY A PART OF THIS SHOW’S AESTHETIC CANON WHEN NEEDED FOR COMIC RELIEF OR EXPOSITION: Pause. Pause. Hey. Welcome back! Let me catch you up. This is Stanley Tucci. We kind of forgot about him until now because he’s playing the only straight character in this thing. He’s actually been through a hell of a lot more than any of the other characters since RPL and LB suddenly went missing and ruined his production of Jesus Christ Superstar months ago. Here’s a quick montage of him running on stage drunk in the middle of a performance, losing his job, getting evicted, piecing together what happened to LB and RPL, gaining a renewed sense of purpose, infiltrating the Associated Press…oh boy, this is a long montage. Whatever. Forget it. Here’s all you need to know: This guy spent a few months reporting undercover in an Egyptian prison to get his dream gig–a one-on-one with the Pope. Anyway. Back to these guys.
STRAIGHT STANLEY TUCCI: you career-ruining snake! you second-rate rangeless baritone! you heartless Iago! I trusted you!
NARRATOR: He’s super camp for a straight guy, but these broadway types usually are.
ROBERT POPE LEONARD: Eh si, si random reporter. I understand you are pained, my son. And I accept your anger graciously and will pray for your…um, soul-type-thing. Amen.
SSTL: Bobby, we were gonna do angels in america together.
RPL: uhhh er my son. you seem to have me confused with a vaguely similar looking broadway Jew. Si. I get this a lot from Americans. Si.
SST: To think I was WORRIED about you. You swine! You fool…I mean fool in the non-Shakespearean sense! I had to direct Rent when you up and ran off to—to—to perform elaborate Catholic drag!
RPL: Hey now! Rent is a perfectly good musical…i mean, I wouldn’t know personally but they tell me it’s unfairly criticized by the theatre community. And by “they” I mean God. It’s just what God tells me…when he, um, you know. Speaks to me directly. Which he totally does.
SST: Not even on broadway, Robert. The LA version. I did a West Coast revival of RENT!
RPL: *gay gasp*
SST, now pacing the room in a Poirot fashion: I knew it was you from the moment I read that in-depth New Yorker article about how the Vatican’s all-nun production of the sound of music was going to be the most artistically inspired version in memory–
RPL: that was all LB…she led the nuns in a rebellion! Do you know what it’s like to have a hundred women in black descend on your room every morning singing Edelweiss? I was going mad! I had to cut back on the vatican candle budget to find money for their set.
SST, pacing still and not listening: and then all the cute little articles about how the new pope loves white wine and goat cheese—and hates to travel–
RPL: I had no choice! You have to believe me—
SST: It didn’t add up. An Italian who prefers WHITE? No. No. Something much more disturbing was at play.
RPL: The CIA made me swear on James Lapine’s life that I wouldn’t tell you—
SST: But it wasn’t until you quoted Into the Woods in your Sunday sermon that I knew without a doubt—
RPL: Please forgive me Stanley. You’re the only straight friend I have—I never meant to hurt you or your dreams of directing Tony Kushner’s gay masterpiece.
SST: pack your vintage leather Louis Vuitton trunks, Bob! I’ll go get LB and we’re ubering to the airport this second!
RPL, turning away anguished, looking out the window: I’m sorry. I can’t. The cardinals need me…they’re relying on me…
SST: since when do you care about a bunch of religious cult guys?
[RPL draws a little heart on the foggy glass.]
RPL: it’s actually….one religious cult guy in particular that I can’t bear to disappoint.
SST: Oh for god’s sake. You gay idiot. These people are seriously batshit catholic bobby. you cannot go crushing on them.
RPL, gravely: The heart wants what the heart wants.
SST: Any chance your heart could want a single gay pastry chef living in Brooklyn? Restaurants keep the same hours as Broadway plays so it wouldn’t interfere with angels in america rehearsals too much.
RPL: Please help me. I don’t know how to tell him.
SST: For fuck’s sake.
RPL: LB is too busy with the all-nun sound of music. I think she misses Johanna and she’s coping with it by trying to best Julie Andrews as Maria. And without her I don’t know what it means or what I should do when Cardinal Stephen dog-ears his favourite bible passages for me to read before my sermons or slips mini Reese’s Pieces into my hand when he notices I’m getting peckish during state meetings…
SST: What in the name of fucking new unexplored levels of sappy gay…fucking…I’m not getting involved in your gay shenanigans.
RPL: But I love him.
SST: You fucking…how did I ever get so sucked in by a one-trick pony of an actor. Fuck. I’ll fucking stay and fix your stupid love life. But it’s not for you. You’re replaceable. I need LB back.
RPL: You won’t regret this! This’ll totally win you that GLAAD award, just you watch. (beat) Okay, some ground rules. You’re the new Vatican Press Secretary. Your name is Filipo, you’re from Puerto Rico, your favourite patron saint is Our Lady Of Loreto, you did image consulting for a catholic spinoff of dancing with the stars called Dance, Dance Cattolico.
[SST stares at him menacingly.]
RPL: Er…when I saw that the interview was with you…I may have had to come up with some lies about how you’re an old friend I’m hiring. And I can only lie in rhymes. You know this.
[CARDINAL #3 is flipping through his morning paper with some irritation. He is increasingly annoyed that everyone cares more about the romance subplot and the all-nun sound of music revival than his evil machinations.]
CARDINAL #3: I need a plan.
[CARDINAL #3 pauses on an article about a young man who tried to steal Shamu from Seaworld…the young man happens to be the nephew of a semi-famous broadway actor.]
CARDINAL #3: I have a plan.
STRAIGHT STANLEY TUCCI: bobby if you don’t tell that boy you love him I swear to god when we get back to new york, the only thing im casting you in is the Cats revival!
RPL:….you wouldn’t. Stanley. You wouldn’t.
SST: watch me bitch
RPL: not Cats…
SST: I’ll cast you in every Andrew Lloyd Webber musical in existence.
RPL: You wouldn’t…
SST: Watch. Me. Bitch.
[LB enters RPL’s living quarters, ready to complain to him about how hard it is to make a passable Captain Von Trapp out of Sister Roberta, but is confronted with the sight of RPL chasing a chicken around his room. Everything from his clothes to his furniture is in complete disarray.]
RPL, caught in the headlight: Oh hey.
RPL, sitting down and plucking a few stray feathers from his robes: what’s up?
LB: Um. Bobby…Your Lenzyness…. why do you have a chicken in your bedroom?
[The chicken clucks and flaps its wings in a somewhat menacing manner.]
RPL: A chicken? What chicken?
LB: The chicken bobby. That chicken right there….shitting on your bed…
RPL: Oh! Right, right. That chicken. You mean this chicken over here?
LB: Yes, bobby. I am asking you why in the goddman hell you have a chicken in your Vatican bedroom.
RPL, finally letting go of the pretense and swooning upon his sofa in despair: stephen asked me what I wanted for my birthday and I was trying to tell him in Italian….all I wanted was to sneak out of here secretly and have dinner with him…but it turns out I uh, um.
LB: oh no…oh bobby…
RPL: Yeah so the. It turns out….the Italian word I thought meant dinner, was actually chicken. Because all I ever eat for dinner is chicken…so the maids keep asking me every night…if I want chicken…
LB: Oh, my poor foolish pumpkin…
RPL: I accidentally told him all I wanted was a secret chicken. And he got me this monster. I’ve been trying to feed her all day.
[prolonged silence from both of them, punctuated only by the chicken clucking loudly]
RPL: I’ve named her Jerry Seinfeld.
[Chicken Jerry Seinfeld clucks louder still, quite pleased with herself]
[INTENSELY TIGHT CLOSE UP on RPL and Chicken Jerry Seinfeld, staring each other down, nose to beak.]
RPL: I hate you Jerry Seinfeld and I would eat you out of a bucket with some biscuits if I didn’t love stephen so much
JERRY SEINFELD: * clucks in response *
CARDINAL STEPHEN, tapping on the door: Your Holiness?
RPL, hastily making himself more presentable: Yes! Cardinal Stephen. Please come in. (aside to Jerry Seinfeld) if you don’t behave I’ll steam you up with some broccoli, i swear.
CARDINAL STEPHEN, poking his head in: I just wanted to see if you received my present…
[He takes in RPL’s room, which is in ruins.]
RPL, scooping up Jerry Seinfeld lovingly: Oh haha! Yes. She is so…so charming.
[He notices CARDINAL STEPHEN casting worried looks at his tipped over sofa and chicken-shit-covered bed.]
RPL: We have been having…much fun…playing tag…reminds me of being a boy…growing up in the Italian countryside…which is totally how I grew up…
[Jerry Seinfeld bites RPL’s hand in protest and flaps out of his grip, perching herself atop his head.]
RPL, struggling to maintain a good-natured air: This is how she jokes with me. Very smart birds, these chickens….I love her. Thank you for your kind gift.
[Jerry Seinfeld flaps vigorously, and makes herself comfortable on top of RPL’s head. STEPHEN laughs a little. He sees through the lie but is amused and fond nonetheless.]
RPL, trying for dignified and huffy, despite the chicken on his head: What, er,…have I said something funny, Cardinal?
STEPHEN, trying to suppress a smile: No your holiness. I hope you will forgive my familiarity but it is quite touching to watch you being so playful with the bird…to admire your humanity as well as your…heavenly wisdom.
RPL, blushing: Uh yes. Well. You know, the Lord…er, wants us to marvel at his creation and stuff, you know?
STEPHEN: Indeed. I have been meaning to tell you–
[He pauses and leans forward, as though on the verge of divulging a great secret.]
RPL’S ASSISTANT, from a distance: Time for your snack, holy father.
STEPHEN: To…tell you how I sincerely hoped my gift would bring you cheer.
RPL, immediately shaking the chicken to the floor and flopping down on his bed: you live to fight another day, Jerry Seinfeld.
[CARDINAL #3 greets RPL’s Little Nephew (played by Timothee Chalamet) at the airport. LN is straight out of the American Vandal universe.]
Little Nephew (LN): Hi dude, nice to meet you. Thanks for the dope flight. Business class was sweet as fuck. I drank the mouthwash they put in your little goody bag so I already have a nice little buzz going.
CARDINAL #3, aside to the audience: You must think me insane. “What use do you have for the gay jewish man’s little nephew?” you must me thinking. Little does this dirtbag know, I will manipulate him into becoming my eyes and ears and soon I will know Robert’s secrets and blackmail him into letting me run the Vatican instead of quoting Sondbert musicals and blessing gay dolphins on twitter.
LN: Super stoked to see Uncle Robert. A limo? Whoa. He’s got a sweet gig here.
CARDINAL #3: Yes. I’m glad you’re here for your Uncle Robert. I was very impressed by your attempt to, uh, drive Shamu to freedom in the back of a stolen truck.
LN: I was, like, tripping on cough syrup so I fucked up. Otherwise, it would have totally worked.
CARDINAL #3: I’m sure. Well, that sort of sneakiness and reckless mischief is exactly what I need right now. I mean, uh, for good purposes…not for a nefarious reason or anything. Just need your help to take care of your Uncle Robert. You see, this role has burdened him immensely—
LN: Like that dude in Inception. Yo. I hear you.
CARDINAL #3: Yeah. Sure. But more importantly your uncle has no one to confide in right now.
LN: Totally! I watched Inception on the way here. So I know all about burdens and stuff. Like he could have totally just given Ellen Page a heads up about what was bugging him and stuff. But he’s, like, the main character so he was all burdened and secretive and stuff.
CARDINAL #3: The point is…you must be a shoulder for him to cry on…together we may be able to get to the root of what ails him….
LN: Ellen Page was super good in that movie.
CARDINAL #3: Yes, yes. Okay. Little idiot, listen to me. I need you to be Ellen Page for your uncle right now, okay? Can you do that for me? Be Ellen Page?
LN: Inception is an awesome plane movie. But the lingering question I have is like…how did they get into that other guy’s dream right?
CARDINAL #3: And if you offer your uncle a shoulder to cry on and figure out what’s bothering him, then I can help him….Whoa! Wait. Did you miss the main premise of Inception?
LN: Dog, like I get that dreams have levels but—
CARDINAL #3: what the fuck kid, are you stupid? It’s actually not that complicated. The whole POINT of the Sci-Fi element is that they have this military technology that lets them infiltrate dreams—
[THREE HOURS LATER]
CARDINAL #3: and that’s why it cuts to black when the totem is still spinning.
LN: that is so DOPE. Dog, that is way more dope than a movie about accidentally falling asleep in moving cars and shit. (beat) Now what is the super stealthy spy shit I’m supposed to be doing with Uncle Robert? Don’t worry, dog, I got this. Anything to help out Uncle Rob-Dog.
CARDINAL #3, aside: I’ve made a huge mistake.
NARRATOR: Meanwhile, at a New York steakhouse, LB’s ex-girlfriend JOHANNA is reacquainting herself with medium-rare animal flesh after a trying and brief stay in a vegetarian farming collective.
WILL ARNETT (JOHANNA’s Associate, a suck-up): What’s the plan boss! How are we gonna get your job back? We gonna strut in there and give the Chief a piece of your mind?
MEGAN FOX (JOHANNA’s Other Partner, cares but only deep down): I can threaten him if you want.
NARRATOR: Johanna had quit her job by shouting some choice insults at her boss, who was terrible, thus abandoning the very case that, if solved, would lead her to uncover that the Missing Pope was living a new life as a somewhat ineffective mafia boss and surprisingly good amateur bird watcher.
JOHANNA: Nope. No begging. No threatening. We’re gonna solve the Vincetti case ourselves and get the chief fired.
[JOHANNA cuts her steak rather violently. The other two exchange worried glances.]
WA: But what about Bernadette? I thought you wanted to slow things down until you got over her.
JOHANNA: It’s like she always said. “Just keep moving on. Anything you do. Let it come from you.” Something something something! I don’t remember but I’m MOVING! On!
MF: That’s the spirit. Now let’s drink!
JOHANNA, stabbing her steak onto a fork: you know who loved to drink?
WA: Oh boy.
MF: Uh oh.
JOHANNA, crying around bites of steak: Bernadette! She could drink. That woman once drank Liev Schreiber under the table–
MF: don’t do this.
JOHANNA, throwing the steak to the ground and wailing now: the only way you’d even know she was drunk is that she would get up on the table and sing all of Rose’s Turn…but, even after a bottle of whiskey…she’d do it flawlessly
WA: Boss. come on. we’re gonna solve the case!
MF: you love solving cases.
JOHANNA, banging her head on the table: she left me for a man who eats actual vanilla ben & jerrys and darns his socks.
LB: Um. Bobby Lenz…why do you have a mug that says “This Pope Heart Pops Only For You” with a bunch of red hearts all over it?
RPL: Oh yeah. I made that for stephen at the orphanage arts and crafts day. Cause it’s valentine’s day soon. I’m going to pretend it’s a joke mug but it’s not. Clever, eh?
SST: * a hand to his heart * Excusez-moi?
NARRATOR: It’s becoming increasingly unrealistic for him to be the only straight character in this show.
RPL: Oh right. you weren’t here when I invited stephen to an orphanage instead of a restaurant. He was impressed that i like to volunteer so now i have to keep going. im beginning to kind of like it…those kids taught me how to use twitter! did you know I have an official pope account? I have many followers so it’s hard to reply to all of their messages but I try to.
SST AND LB, in unison: Oh no….