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TNT is bringing Shakespeare to the small screen in a brand new way this summer. Viewers aren't in for yet another adaptation of Romeo and Juliet or yet another take on Hamlet. With Will, TNT is taking us back to the time of Shakespeare himself with an origin story so wild that even the Bard himself might be surprised by the twists and turns. The William Shakespeare of Will isn't one that historians will recognize, and he makes for a show that combines punk rock with iambic pentameter. The end result is neither a tragedy nor a comedy, but something in between that's more or less successful.
Will kicks off with a 20-something William Shakespeare (newcomer Laurie Davidson) leaving his wife and children at home in Stratford-upon-Avon and heading to a rock and roll version of London to try and make a name for himself on the theater circuit in the 16th century. He is sent off with a rosary and a letter for a Catholic family friend, both of which are quite dangerous in Protestant Elizabethan England. After a run-in with young pickpocket Presto (Lukas Rolfe) who steals the letter, Will meets theater owner James Burbage (Colm Meaney) and his rebellious daughter Alice (Olivia DeJonge), and they introduce him to the London theater scene.
Young Will Shakespeare discovers that the plays of Christopher Marlowe (Jamie Campbell Bower) are in high demand, but his knack of creating words and crafting rhymes sets him apart right away. The less in-demand playwright Baxter isn't Will's biggest fan as he gains acclaim quickly from the Burbages. Meanwhile, law enforcer Richard Topcliffe (Ewen Bremner) is on the lookout for any Catholics as the citizens of London drink, boo, and cheer their way from scene to scene. There are impromptu mosh pits, elaborate outfits, and songs that are more fitting with the 21st century music scene than the 16th century. There are anachronisms aplenty, and history definitely doesn't apply, but that's not necessarily a bad thing.
All things considered, Will feels like more like a TV spinoff of Moulin Rouge than anything else, which actually makes sense. Creator and showrunner Craig Pearce collaborated with Baz Luhrmann to write Moulin Rouge. They also collaborated on the 1996 film Romeo + Juliet that starred Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes in a kind of Shakespeare adaptation that had never been seen before. There are bright colors and unexpected musical breaks, and there's even a love-at-first-sight story that's tragic right off the bat. Will is a sensory overload that works as long as you're willing to go along for the ride and suspend your disbelief about iambic pentameter rap battles in taverns. If not... well, Will might not be for you.
Where Will suffers, however, is the fact that there's no one character who viewers are going to really want to root for based on his or her character. Will Shakespeare is obviously the star of the story, but he makes some shady moves that aren't exactly praiseworthy. If his name wasn't William Shakespeare and we didn't know that he was the hero, we might not really want to root for him. Laurie Davidson is rather lovely as Shakespeare, and he sells the sense of a young man who doesn't really know what he's doing but jumps in headfirst anyway. Hopefully the character will be fleshed out further as the season progresses. Will also falls a bit short on Richard Topcliffe as the villain. Ewen Bremner is more than capable of selling sinister, but Topcliffe is rather one-note as he hunts down Catholics.
This show delivers on the bawdiness that viewers might expect out of a show based -- albeit loosely based -- on the life of William Shakespeare. The reality that it airs on TNT does mean that there's a limit on how raunchy scenes can get. While Will doesn't hold back on sex, you can count on seeing a lot of strategically placed arms and backs and hems. It's not always especially noticeable that the actors are clearly hitting marks for modesty's sake, but it's actually kind of amusing during a scene set in a brothel. Suffice it to say that the brothels of Will are quite different from the brothels of Game of Thrones.
At the end of the day, Will is a nicely diverting show that's fun enough. It likely won't go down in history as one of the best tellings of Shakespeare's story, but it doesn't take itself too seriously, and the way in embraces the ridiculous without holding back is impressive. Will is solid summer fare for the small screen, and what more do we need than that?
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