Ambitious, lavishly produced television series are routine in the era of big-spending streaming platforms.
But the latest entry, Amazon’s The Romanoffs, tests viewers with its classic TV format: it’s an anthology series made up of eight self-contained episodes, a contrast with the season-long narratives of shows including American Crime Story.
The element connecting the tales of The Romanoffs is the ancestral link its main characters claim to the Russian imperial family assassinated in the early 20th century. The show’s debut on Amazon Prime pairs two episodes, The Violet Hour and The Royal We.
Corey Stoll, who stars in the second episode with Kerry Bishe, Janet Montgomery and Noah Wyle, says the series reflects its historical roots.
“What makes The Romanoffs an exciting and fertile ground from which to tell our stories is the contradictions” in them, Stoll said. “There is this incredible grace and glamour and power that the family had. But there was an enormous amount of degradation and scandal.”
The early episodes don’t reach the heights of Romanoff (alternatively spelled Romanov) royal tragedy, but there is greed, racist cruelty, betrayal and, perhaps, love scattered throughout what are essentially individual movies.
While early TV was home to anthology series with stand-alone episodes, including the 1956-61 Playhouse 90, audiences are now used to binging on continuing stories. With The Romanoffs, they’ll instead find new characters, shifting comedic and dramatic tones and a veritable travelogue of settings — the series was shot in Paris, London, Mexico City, New York and Hong Kong, among other places.
The Romanoffs also could prove a measure of how its creator, Matthew Weiner, is viewed after facing a Mad Men workplace sexual misconduct allegation and claims he could be a harsh boss on the 2007-15 drama.
(Weiner, who declined to be interviewed, has rebutted the accusation of making a lewd comment to a female writer. He has described himself as “angry” at times during production of the AMC show.)
Several of The Romanoffs cast members, who joined the project before the allegation became public last year, said working with Weiner proved only rewarding.
“My experience with Matt was great,” said Amanda Peet, who plays a woman confronted by her past in Expectation, airing on October 26. “I understand that isn’t the case for everybody. But for me it’s great.”
Jon Tenney, who stars opposite Peet, also labelled his experience “great.” As for the allegations, Tenney said, “that’s for Matt to talk about.”
Annet Mahendru, who appears with Kathryn Hahn and Jay R Ferguson in the November 16 episode, End of the Line, marvelled at perfectionist Weiner’s attention to detail.
“We picked out my nail polish together. Usually in TV shows there’s no time to decide things like that,” said Mahendru, who also recalled him jumping in to sweep lint off the floor before a scene.
Weiner, who directed the series and wrote or co-wrote most of the episodes, “really loves what he does, and because of that we got to enjoy it and do what we love in the fullest possible way,” she said.
While actors were drawn by the scripts and Weiner’s Mad Men track record — 16 Emmy Awards, including four best drama series trophies — some had other reasons to jump onboard.
“My wife is actually of Romanoff descent,” said Stoll, with her mother a duchess. “But I didn’t know the whole history of the Romanoffs until I was cast. I figured it’s a good excuse to do some research.”
For Aaron Eckhart, who stars in The Violet Hour with Marthe Keller and Ines Melab, the chance to work in Paris in the spring was a definite plus for the American actor who once lived there.
He called it “wonderful” to be able to practice his French and to “have Paris as your backdrop... We were filming on the Champs-Elysees, we’re on Georges V [avenue], we were all over town,” he said.
Don’t miss it!
The Romanoffs is now streaming on Amazon Prime Video.