Netflix’s Marco Polo is Beautiful but Flawed

marco-polo-tv-review-netflix

Hoping to capitalize on the popularity of drama, action, and intrigue in exotic settings peddled by HBO’s Game of Thrones and to broaden its appeal to international viewers as it expands outside the United States, Netflix’s newest original series Marco Polo appropriates the name of the Venetian merchant traveler who was the first European to leave a detailed record of his journeys to China. Released in its entirety on December 12, 2014 for potential binging, the 10-episode series is a fictional account of Marco Polo’s time in Kublai Khan’s court in the 13th century. If you can’t access this show through Netflix due to regional blockages, you might also want to search around for other streaming alternatives. Such as looking here to see if Marco Polo is available elsewhere for viewing.

The consensus seems to be that the $90 million dollar show is visually beautiful but is uninspired and not well-written. If you’re wanting to access more premium channels like HBO and Showtime to investigate shows that actually are worth investing your time into, see what EATEL can do for you.

Variety says of the show: “Handsome to look at, reasonably entertaining and questionable as history, the series luxuriates in a period setting that provides license for all the usual barbaric diversions. Still, having viewed the first six of 10 episodes, if somebody yells, “Marco!” nobody should feel compelled to answer right away.”

Vox praises the show’s production values, action sequences, and complex female characters but finds the show to be boring.

Tea Leaf Nation called the show a “cross-cultural clunker”.

A.V. Club, whose opinions I frequently consult because of its writers’ tough but fair analyses, reviewed each episode, giving only one episode high marks and rating the first season overall with a unimpressive grade of C+.

The Atlantic also runs through the criticisms of the show (the harshest being that it is “binge-proof”) but also discusses how the show has been dinged for its approach towards Asian characters and cultures. Lenika Cruz specifically highlights two disapprovals. First, Angry Asian Man‘s unsurprising automatic rant-rejection of the show as a “white-guy-in-Asia adventure” that was published before the show’s release. Second, Salon’s TV critic Sonia Soraiya‘s critique that the show is “stunningly tone-deaf” and that it “flouts historical accuracy and undermines its own characters to play up orgies in the Khan’s harem and threesomes in his bedchamber with his empress and concubines.” Lofty aspirations of prestige TV led to downfall.

However, Soraiya points out showrunner John Fusco here “has done excellent work in the past telling a story of another culture with nuance and perspective”, and The Atlantic also offers a modest defense of the show, countering that the show does follow some recommendations by the Media Action Network for Asian Americans and that “Marco Polo does more for the overall goal of increasing the representation of Asian characters and breaking down some stereotypes (even as it perpetuates others) than other highly acclaimed Western shows that ignore such characters altogether.”

If you have watched or are watching the series, do you agree with the critiques of the quality of the show? It seems like an opportunity for a captivating series has been squandered. How would it stack up against Chinese period dramas and action series?

Are the accusations of orientalism founded? Is achieving the desired allure of far-off places really such a difficult task for Hollywood? What are some examples of it being done right?

Marco Polo Trailer:

Featurette 1:

Featurette 2: