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TV Show Review

The Great

Directed by Various
From: Hulu
Released: 05.15.20
Review by idobi Staff | May 1, 2020 at 9:30 AM

idobi Votes: C-  |  5/10 – Sherin Nicole  |  5/10 – Alex Bear

Basically:  ‘Emma of Russia’ but bloody-funny. Amirite?

“In order to understand The Great you must only ask yourself one question: What if Jane Austen was depraved…and slightly Russian?”

The Great is a depravity filled farce, painting real life Empress Catherine the Great (1700s Russia) with an English period drama brush—such liberties are taken that one must wonder what on earth one is watching. Oh and dear one, don’t even try to reconcile this Hulu series with historical accuracy. One’s wig would be snatched askew. Not that it matters, if Game of Thrones could turn the War of the Roses into a countdown to watch Joffrey die, then The Great can have a Rasputin who loves the scent of burnt flesh in the morning, only a few centuries early. Just don’t breathe
too deeply.

“It is a truth universally acknowledged that a young woman in possession of her wits should dodge Russian Czars like small pox, unless she be in want of mistreatment…and migraines.”

Photo by: Ollie Upton/Hulu

Catherine (Elle Fanning) is Jane Austen’s Emma…wait…yes, but no… She is Sophie Friederike Auguste von Anhalt-Zerbst-Dornburg of Austria an oh-so-innocent, lover of books, and a dreamer of having a love most satisfying. And then she moves to Russia, marries a Czar…no wait…Emperor! That’s right, Emperor Peter (Nicholas Hoult)—who should never be confused with being Great. Peter turns out to be an absolute monster with zero redeeming qualities and a relentlessly comedic cruelty that’s cartoony. You can’t take him seriously but you know you want him—like Joffrey—to die. At one point he jiggles her tits like it’s a salutation; at another he shoots a man in both legs to test out a new pistol. We’re not kidding. Oh, and look out for the ice cream and eyeballs. Yeah, that’s real. 

By the time Sophie renames herself Catherine she’s on the brink of madness. That’s when she’s finally ‘messed up royally’ and ready to take the crown. Which, as you know, is historically accurate in general. Afterall, lunacy should never stand in the way of one’s dream of ruling through peace and education (after one’s husband is sufficiently mercked, of course).

“Peter is TRASH. Trash during a garbage retrieval strike level trash.”

Photo by: Ollie Upton/Hulu

The Great is so completely bonkers you’ll be texting your friends epic #HotTakes, just so you can share your disbelief. Seriously, this show will send you down the rabbit hole of googling the Russian royal dynasty. Peter III was actually a rather progressive leader who was ahead of his time. Catherine was the one who was afraid of his changes—at first. She was far more brutal than he (which was a high bar to set for 1700s aristocracy). While she did eventually become known for ushering in the Golden Age of Russia, she didn’t get there without doing some pretty terrible things.

However The Great reframes Catherine as the (mostly factual) hero and Peter as the cruel sadistic ruler in order to make you want her to pull a Carole Baskin and feed him to her tiger…no, not a tiger…a bear (oh, yeah, we should mention he gives her a bear as a wedding present). Don’t worry. That, like most of the shenanigans in this show, doesn’t end well. Yup.

“People might love this lunacy. Or, like Joffrey, they’ll simply stick around in hopes Peter will turn purple and expire.”

Photo by: Ollie Upton/Hulu

What starts off as an over-the-top, totally shocking, yet amusingly satirical farce of 16th Century Russia soon devolves into complete and utter madness. While, yes, we know most people had stronger stomachs back then and didn’t mind a few severed heads on pikes, or the occasional beating of women with sticks, the cartoony violence becomes way too much. Oh darling, the tedium of it all. It’s all so ridiculous that the entertainment factor wears off but the shocks keep coming. We’re not entirely sure whether the show is still trying to be funny after a while, or if it really wants to make a statement about a powerful woman. Although it does keep those tongue-in-cheek truths that women, especially, will find relatable for all the wrong reasons. 

“This is a farce, but as a woman you can’t help but see the truth lurking beneath the laughs and uncomfortably snicker. Because what else would one do as a Lady in 1740s Russia. You’d chortle into your handkerchief. Innit?”

In the End: The Great parallels Catherine’s delusions about sex with Peter—she wanted a historical romance novel, she got a horror show.

The Great premieres on Hulu on May 15th.

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