Matthew Weiner's Amazon Series 'The Romanoffs' Will Focus On Descendants Of Russian Royalty

Matthew Weiner
Matthew Weiner AMC

Nearly two years after the series finale of Mad Men, creator Matthew Weiner is gearing up for a return to the small screen with Amazon’s The Romanoffs, an eight-episode anthology focusing on self-professed descendants of the last Russian czar.

In an interview with Variety, Weiner explained the show wouldn’t focus on the Russian Revolution in a historical sense, but rather explore how individuals experience their connection to distant ancestors.

“We’re at a place in our history where people are looking for a close connection to their roots, and for some kind of revelation about who they are,” Weiner told Variety. “There’s great debate about who is a Romanoff and what happened to the Romanoffs. The story for me is that we’re all questioning who we are and who we say we are.”

Weiner elaborated on this idea in conversation with The Hollywood Reporter, saying, “the reason that I picked the Romanovs is that in an era where we have social media and so much theoretical connection to each other it really seems like we’re further apart than ever. And I love this idea that these characters believe themselves to be, whether they are or not, descendants of this last autocratic family who are part of one of the great true crime stories of all time. I also love that it’s the chance to talk about nature versus nurture, what they have in common and what is left of a grand heritage.”

Mad Men fans will spot some common themes in there, particularly the idea of misrepresenting oneself and the struggle to make meaningful connection. So far, so good, right? That’s the kind of character study Weiner’s proven he can do well, arguably better than anyone else in television.

Where things get tricky is that each of the eight episodes will have a new cast. As Weiner told THR, “The most different part for me is really the storytelling. No one’s coming back week to week, which is a very different way to tell a story for someone who has had continuing characters who changed but over 92 hours in eight years.” It’s certainly ambitious, but much of the appeal of Mad Men and The Sopranos comes from their nuanced character interactions and evolutions, rather than dramatic plot twists.

So what is it about the way Weiner talks about The Romanoffs that kinda rubs us the wrong way? Well, part of it may come down to the fact that, much like Quentin Tarantino, Weiner tends to come off as insufferable in interviews, no matter how much you enjoy his work. ( See if you can get through this 2015 Fresh Air interview without cringing.)

That aside, our larger question is this: has Weiner entered George Lucas Prequel Trilogy territory with The Romanoffs, surrounded by fawning toadies who never push back or challenge his ideas, but instead let him revel in an unfettered wankfest of his own genius? (Or are we still feeling salty about the underwhelming Mad Men finale? Probably a little of both.)

After asking about a well-publicized bidding war for The Romanoffs, THR asked Weiner why he decided to make the show with Amazon. His reply isn’t super convincing that we aren’t in “unfettered wankfest” territory: “Honestly, the budget was significant, the freedom was significant, and I had great conversations with Roy [Price], who was really smart and not afraid of anything narratively, which is kind of new. It reminded me of AMC when I got there, there was a kind of, "Well, I’d like to watch that." And when the executive isn’t projecting onto the audience and reverse engineering from what they perceive to be an audience, all of a sudden you’re talking to someone who thinks like a writer. So, it was a chemistry thing in addition to him being someone who was up for eight episodes and this mutual decision about whether we move on — and he was excited about doing something new.”

Obviously, network executives are an easy target, as they’re responsible for all the Real Skating Housewives of American Idol Cake Fight bilge that makes us all acutely aware that this is, in many ways, a terrible time to be alive. But still, there’s something to be said for demanding stories that “make sense” or appeal to “what they perceive to be an audience.” There’s also a lot of value to be found in constructive criticism of needless pretension and self-indulgent flights of fancy.

At this point, there is no firm release date for The Romanoffs, though Weiner told THR the series “should be available for streaming this time next year, maybe a little earlier.” So, until we hear otherwise, plan for spring 2018.

Despite our concerns, we’ll almost certainly be watching The Romanoffs next year. Will you? Let us know in the comments.

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