Marco Polo is back on Netflix, and I’m still enjoying it within its own somewhat derpy terms. It takes the story of Marco Polo and uses it to ask the question “what would it be like if Game of Thrones had more kung fu?” The answer is about as fun as it sounds.
As I have said before, they found a way to make a stock Chinese historical soap-epic thing with a white guy in the lead role, although to be perfectly honest calling Marco the lead and putting his face on the promo images is a bit of an exaggeration. This show should really be called Kublai Khan, since Benedict Wong’s performance is the centre of the whole thing. And the fact that Marco is the nominal lead tends to obscure the fact — the remarkable fact — that this is an American TV show with one-count-’em-one white dude in it, which is … again, that’s not common, surely.
Historically, it’s about as loosey-goosey as it was in the previous season; I had just looked up one of the characters and discovered that he lived to a ripe old age when I saw him brutally killed on the screen. A history lesson it ain’t. But on the other hand, I think it’s fair to say that this is probably the best American TV show ever made about medieval Chinese history. I could be wrong, but if there’s any competition other than the 1982 Marco Polo series, I don’t know what it is.
But even apart from the low standard of the competition, it does get across a few important ideas that your typical US TV viewer might not have known much about, including the idea of different regions of China having important differences, the Mongol court being ethnically and ideologically diverse (we see more Christian Mongols this season, for instance), and something of the politics of the Mongols, who are presented as a civilised nomadic warrior culture rather than as the usual greasy barbarians.
So, yeah; only three episodes in but I’ll continue to watch, primarily for the spectacle but also because they have Michelle Yeoh in this season (I guess that’s spectacle too) and because I really support people making TV shows out of periods of history that don’t get covered enough. The dialogue is still 85% terrible, though.