You can now read 5 articles in a month for free on BostonGlobe.com. Read as much as you want anywhere and anytime for just 99¢.

Television Review

In ‘Demons,’ da Vinci as a visionary hero

Tom Riley stars as Leonardo da Vinci as an eccentric, almost superhero figure in Starz’s “Da Vinci’s Demons.”

starz

Tom Riley stars as Leonardo da Vinci as an eccentric, almost superhero figure in Starz’s “Da Vinci’s Demons.”

In the buoyant new historical fantasy series “Da Vinci’s Demons,” Leonardo da Vinci might as well be the guy who invented the latest greatest social media app. He’s a technological geek with strong people skills and an ability to market his concepts, and he’s probably not much like the real da Vinci, the 15th-century Italian Renaissance man.

But he is a dynamic hero in this fact-fiction-mash-up, which premieres on Friday night at 10. In his 20s (played by Tom Riley), he is a visionary, a brilliant swordsman, and a savvy romantic whose sketches of potential lovers can lure them into his bed. He has a sizable ego, as he bends the world to his will, but he also has a healthy sense of humor about himself. His weakness is that he becomes so overwhelmed by his newfangled ideas about how to build weapons or flying machines, as well as by deep memories of his troubled childhood, that he has to smoke opium for respite and clarity.

Continue reading below

Created by David S. Goyer, whose writing credits include the “Dark Knight” Batman trilogy, “Da Vinci’s Demons” gives us a superhero of sorts, earthbound but able to accomplish seemingly magical things in a single bound.

Goyer has imagined a lively world around his da Vinci, who recalls Joseph Fiennes’s Shakespeare in “Shakespeare in Love.” The show is a costume drama, but it’s so filled with adventure and eccentricity that it never feels stuffy. Da Vinci has been given a few sidekicks, including the innocent Nico (Eros Vlahos) and the swindling Zoroaster (Gregg Chillin), and they provide bits of comic relief when their leader takes life too seriously.

At the same time, “Da Vinci’s Demons” includes instances of brutality, including beheadings and hangings. The show doesn’t quite fetishize those images, but they are nonetheless gruesome. In one scene, which is bound to be attacked by some within the Catholic Church, we see Pope Sixtus IV (James Faulkner) in a pool in a sexual embrace with a boy – holding a knife against the boy’s throat. After Count Girolamo Riario enters the pool area and shares secret information with the pope, who is his uncle, Riario silences the boy permanently.


By the end of the second episode, the story line gains momentum as Riario, played with witty villainy by Blake Ritson, becomes one of da Vinci’s sworn enemies. Both men are on a search to find the mysterious “Book of Leaves.” Meanwhile, da Vinci is courting trouble by convincing Lorenzo Medici (Elliot Cowan) to give him money to develop new weaponry while simultaneously seducing Medici’s mistress, Lucrezia (Laura Haddock, who looks like Angelina Jolie). His hostile father, who never married his mother, works for the Medicis and warns him to stay away, but that only fuels his desire to deepen his involvement with the wealthy family. The guy likes a few good challenges.

The plot strands don’t always come together smoothly, some of da Vinci’s mystical, drug-addled visions are pretentious, and the CGI re-creating 15th-century Florence is spotty. And the general tone of the show will not satisfy anyone looking for a serious take on a historical figure or era. But “Da Vinci’s Demons” is an entertaining series with one huge factor working in its favor: Unlike so much of what we see on TV lineups, it aims to be different.

Matthew Gilbert can be reached at gilbert@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @Matthew
Gilbert
.
Loading comments...
Subscriber Log In

We hope you've enjoyed your 5 free articles'

Stay informed with unlimited access to Boston’s trusted news source.

  • High-quality journalism from the region’s largest newsroom
  • Convenient access across all of your devices
  • Today’s Headlines daily newsletter
  • Subscriber-only access to exclusive offers, events, contests, eBooks, and more
  • Less than 25¢ a week
Marketing image of BostonGlobe.com
Marketing image of BostonGlobe.com
Already a subscriber?
Your city. Your stories. Your Globe.
Yours FREE for two weeks.
Enjoy free unlimited access to Globe.com for the next two weeks.
Limited time only - No credit card required!
BostonGlobe.com complimentary digital access has been provided to you, without a subscription, for free starting today and ending in 14 days. After the free trial period, your free BostonGlobe.com digital access will stop immediately unless you sign up for BostonGlobe.com digital subscription. Current print and digital subscribers are not eligible for the free trial.
Thanks & Welcome to Globe.com
You now have unlimited access for the next two weeks.
BostonGlobe.com complimentary digital access has been provided to you, without a subscription, for free starting today and ending in 14 days. After the free trial period, your free BostonGlobe.com digital access will stop immediately unless you sign up for BostonGlobe.com digital subscription. Current print and digital subscribers are not eligible for the free trial.