As a dabbler in Shakespeare studies, I had my doubts about TNT's "Will," the latest show based on the playwright's early days in London.
Viewing "Will's" first two episodes on cable on demand, I was surprised to find Craig Pearce's Elizabethan confection delightful and engaging.
Uniformly described by the critical pack as a "punk rock" version of the young Shakespeare, "Will" with its contemporary songs and music video sensibility gains authority with its historical depth and dramatic intensity.
Pearce, an actor and frequent film partner of Baz Luhrmann, keeps the show's disparate strands in harmony rather than clashing. Today's artistic sensibility matches well with the expansive, yet repressive, Elizabethan society.
Fresh out of drama school, British actor Laurie Davidson in his first big professional role plays Shakespeare as a spunky country lad who quickly learns big city ways.
Davidson's a charmer, mixing naivety and self-assuredness. With a wife and three kids back home in Stratford-Avon, his Shakespeare burns with erotic intensity while resisting the attractions of Alice Burbage, played with feisty, practical girl-next-door wholesomeness by Olivia DeLonge.
The late 16th century London is both realistic and too stylized. Historic verisimilitude rises by the presence of real life acquaintances of Shakespeare: James Burbage, who built the first Elizabethan theater, his son, Richard, the first great Shakespearean actor, and Will Kempe, the great clown who originated a number of comic roles. Whether Kempe played Falstaff, as the show intimates, is in doubt.
Davidson's Shakespeare quickly boosts Burbage's struggling theater. I loved the plausible story of how Shakespeare's "Edward II" is staged, with an entertaining insider glimpse at the Elizabethan theater world.
I also liked that Shakespeare is portrayed as a hard-working professional writer, a craftsman who finds many of his famous lines from everyday London speech. This doesn't detract from his astonishing verbal inventiveness.
The most volatile dramatic conflict rises from Shakespeare's friendship/rivalry with Christopher Marlowe. James Campbell Bower presents a believable Marlowe, brilliant, conniving, seductive.
For dramatic effect, historical liberties are taken with the unsettled question of Shakespeare's Catholicism. Queen Elizabeth's efforts to suppress the religion in favor of the Anglican Church make for entrancing drama.
"Will" looks like a nice summertime crush. I hope the infatuation lasts. The first two dates have been fun.