'The Romanoffs' Rarely Matches The Heady Ambition Of Its Creator From Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner comes The Romanoffs, an anthology series telling the stories of people who believe they are descendants of the last Russian Royal family.
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'The Romanoffs' Rarely Matches The Heady Ambition Of Its Creator

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'The Romanoffs' Rarely Matches The Heady Ambition Of Its Creator

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'The Romanoffs' Rarely Matches The Heady Ambition Of Its Creator

'The Romanoffs' Rarely Matches The Heady Ambition Of Its Creator

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From Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner comes The Romanoffs, an anthology series telling the stories of people who believe they are descendants of the last Russian Royal family.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

"Mad Men" creator Matthew Weiner is back with a new series for Amazon called "The Romanoffs." It is an anthology series - different cast, different story in each episode. But NPR TV critic Eric Deggans says the series rarely matches the heady ambition of its creator.

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: Episodes of "The Romanoffs" that I've seen feel like a collection of creative yet aimless indie films linked by a single thin premise. At least one person in each episode thinks they're related to the Romanovs, the last royal family to rule in Russia. And that connection has seriously messed up their heads. Take Anushka, an aged, ailing woman in Paris played by Marthe Keller who's cared for by her American nephew, Greg, played by Aaron Eckhart. Anushka's racist, classist and demanding, reacting predictably when a Muslim woman is sent to work as her home health care aide.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE ROMANOFFS")

MARTHE KELLER: (As Anushka) I need a caregiver and not a terrorist.

AARON ECKHART: (As Greg) They emailed me her references. She's educated. She's studying to be a nurse. She knows CPR, first aid. She's the best caregiver they have. And you are by far the worst client.

KELLER: (As Anushka) I hope to sleep well when she blows up my apartment.

DEGGANS: Anushka claims a family connection to the Romanovs, lamenting the humble end of her once-proud family line. Greg is her only relative left, struggling with a caustic French girlfriend who just wants Anushka to die so they can have her opulent, massive apartment in Paris all to themselves.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE ROMANOFFS")

ECKHART: (As Greg) She's my only family.

LOUISE BOURGOIN: (As Sophie) This is why I never wanted a baby even when I married. They need to be fed. They need to be washed. They cry in the middle of the night. They keep you from going on vacation, eating in restaurants.

DEGGANS: So let's see. Terrible French girlfriend doesn't want a baby. Nice Muslim caretaker shows up. Nice American nephew likes her. By the middle of this nearly 90-minute episode, you can guess where the story's going, which is a serious problem. But that doesn't compare to how contrived things get in another episode called "The Royal We." In this story, Corey Stoll is a sad-sack husband in therapy with his wife, played by Kerry Bishe, who wonders why he never wants to do anything with her.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE ROMANOFFS")

KERRY BISHE: (As Shelly Romanoff) I don't care what we do. I would do anything you want.

COREY STOLL: (As Michael Romanoff) But you do care because you make all the decisions - what I do with my spare time, how many hours I work, how much I get paid.

BISHE: (As Shelly Romanoff) The business is both of ours.

STOLL: (As Michael Romanoff) OK, but we both know that you're the boss and I'm the employee.

BISHE: (As Shelly Romanoff) Why do you always say that?

STOLL: (As Michael Romanoff) Because it's true.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) Shelly, we try not to say people always say anything, right?

DEGGANS: Except he does kind of always blame her, which causes issues in his job helping students prepare for standardized tests when he confronts a not-too-bright kid who is fixated on getting into Harvard.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE ROMANOFFS")

STOLL: (As Michael Romanoff) You have to accept the reality and try to be happy with whatever you get.

BRAEDEN LEMASTERS: (As Andrew) Yale?

STOLL: (As Michael Romanoff) You're not listening, Andrew. The big secret is nobody's happy.

LEMASTERS: (As Andrew) I just came here for test prep.

DEGGANS: Eventually Stoll's character meets another woman he would very much like to spend time with during jury duty. This story has an awful ending, which mostly leaves you wondering, why was I forced to spend so much time with these supremely unlikable people?

Matthew Weiner wrote and directed every episode of "The Romanoffs," filming in beautiful locations across the globe. There's also an ace cast with names like Diane Lane, Christina Hendricks and Kathryn Hahn. But Weiner, who made deplorable people so compelling on "Mad Men" and as a writer for "The Sopranos," can't manage the same trick here. Critics were only given three episodes in advance, so it's possible the series gets better. But so far, "The Romanoffs" feels like a glitzy showcase for mediocre stories with a tenuous connection to each other. It's a disappointing second act from the guy who created one of the best dramas in TV history. I'm Eric Deggans.

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