My wife and I came late to The Great, an engrossing ten-episode series on Hulu that is (very) roughly based on the story of Catherine the Great, Empress of Russia.
From that moment we watched The Great almost every night until we finished the last episode yesterday. Thankfully, Season 2 is in the works, because we loved the show.
It's like nothing else I've ever seen -- not on television, not on the big screen.
There's so much to admire about The Great. Here's some of what kept me firing up Apple TV and clicking on Hulu night after night.
History, what history? Yes, there are aspects of The Great that are historically correct. However, the overall tone is wildly 21st century, not 18th century. The characters speak like people today, albeit with an even greater use of "fuck."
At the start of every episode there's an asterisk next to the title that says, "An occasionally true story." That's accurate.
The Great doesn't look like I'd expect Russia in 1761 to appear, assuming I knew anything about Russia at that time.
The accents are British English, by and large. The clothes worn by those hanging around the court of Emperor Peter often look quite modern. The sun always appears to be shining and it's warm enough to lounge around outside.
All of that contributes to the story of Catherine and Peter, who she has been betrothed to in an arranged marriage of sorts, rather than detracting from it.
The craziness of The Great, the contradictions, the jarring confluence of olden times and modern attitudes and ways of speaking -- all that drew me in like a cinematic magnet. Endless surprises kept my attention glued to the TV screen for all 10 episodes.
Strong woman plus jerk of an emperor equals fascination. All of the actors in The Great are terrific. But Elle Fanning as Catherine and Nicholas Hoult as Peter are the most watchable.
They take different trajectories as Season 1 progresses.
Catherine starts off as a nice woman thrown into a marriage with an asshole of an emperor. Bit by bit she finds her inner empress, taking on some of the ruthlessness of Peter.
Meanwhile, Peter becomes increasingly likable, though by no means a nice guy. He finds his softer side, while Catherine hardens up. She isn't Russian, but realizes that if she wants to change Russia into a more refined and democratic nation, she has to become as tough as Russians are.
Catherine is a character that bears some resemblance to what I've seen before in movies. Peter, though, is unique, thanks to the astounding talent of Hoult.
Peter is Trumpian, though without Trump's most irritating qualities.
Yes, Peter is narcissistic, controlling, authoritarian, cruel, uncaring. Yet he also has a sense of humor, can laugh at himself, is open to suggestions, and appealingly transparent.
Like Trump, Peter is unashamedly himself at all times. But I liked Peter hugely more than Trump.
I think it's because you can see the humanity in Peter lurking below the surface, which isn't the case with Trump, who is a jerk all the way down.
Peter is somewhat conflicted about being Emperor of Russia, while I have no doubt that Trump would have zero doubts about being Emperor of the United States. At any rate, Peter commands the viewer's attention whenever he is on screen, as is the case with Catherine.
It's a wild and crazy court. I'm not saying that I'd like to be part of the emperor's court as shown in The Great, since in the long run it would be stressful and exhausting. However, they sure do have a lot of fun.
Assuming your definition of "fun" includes shooting inside the palace, having sex whenever, wherever, and with whoever strikes your fancy, prodigious drinking and eating, making the heads of your enemies a table decoration, and so on.
The excesses washed over me in a pleasing waterfall of decadence. There's never a dull moment in Peter's court, that's for sure.
I really liked the frequent exclamations of "Huzzah!," a catch-all outcry that has no real equivalent in English, with "Yay," "Hooray," "Right-on," coming closest I guess, along with the Marine Corps' "Oorah."
"Huzzah" became so appealing to me, I'd like to make it part of our language.
Peter and the rest of his court said it before smashing their glasses on the floor, as a gesture of solidarity, as indicating approval of something someone did or said, and in other intriguing ways.
As I suspected, that term isn't part of Russian culture, according to the Russia Beyond web site.
“If you had a drink every time someone in The Great said ‘Huzzah’, you’d be drunk before the end of the first episode,” is a joke currently doing the rounds among Russian Twitter users.
And that’s not surprising - in the new (not so) historical comedy series about the Russian Empress, with Elle Fanning and Nicholas Hoult in the lead roles, this exclamation of delight comes at the end of pretty much every piece of dialogue.
In fact, “Huzzah!” is essentially the equivalent of the traditional Russian exclamation “Ura!” (the Russian for “Hooray!”), which usually denotes excitement, joy after achieving a set goal or defeating someone, or a war-cry.
Here's the trailer for The Great.