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Falling out of love with ‘The Romanoffs’

Juan Pablo Castaneda and Radha Mitchell in Matthew Weiner’s Amazon series “The Romanoffs.” Chris Raphael/Amazon

The first season of “The Romanoffs,” Matthew Weiner’s follow-up to “Mad Men,” contains eight self-standing episodes, each featuring a completely different cast, location, and story line. The only common theme among them: characters who believe they’re descendants of the Romanovs, the Russian royal family murdered 100 years ago.

On the eve of the show’s October premiere, Amazon let critics preview the first three episodes.

My review, based on those episodes, was all positivity. I’m a great fan of “Mad Men,” and I was happy to find that Weiner seemed to have another good one up his sleeve. I admired the sheer oddness of the whole venture, which didn’t seem to fit into any preexisting categories. “The Romanoffs” wasn’t a crime procedural, a period drama, a family comedy, a comic book adaptation, a medical soap, or a reboot; it was unique. I enjoyed not being able to predict what was going to come next, as Amazon released the episodes old school, one per week, resisting the binge approach. I valued the way the ideas in each one seemed to resonate, indirectly but clearly, with those in the others, I liked the genre shifts from horror to Hitchcockian mystery, and I appreciated the casting. Two performances, by Marthe Keller and Isabelle Huppert, were stunningly good.

I was in TV love. And then I wasn’t.


I stuck up for “The Romanoffs” through episode four, even claiming that the show’s unevenness — which a majority of less-impressed critics were emphasizing in their reviews — was part of its individualistic charm. But then disappointment set in. My affection for the show diminished, as a pair of awful episodes — one a defensive portrait of a #MeToo type accusation gone wrong, the other a dull travelogue of Mexico City — left me not wanting more. The episode endings started to seem rushed and, in some cases, flip and trivializing. After openly praising the show, not just in my review but in other Globe pieces, I felt frustrated that I may have led readers down the wrong path.


I can’t say I went from love to hate, but I lost faith in “The Romanoffs.” The notions of generational memory and human interconnectedness still speak to me, the sense that the characters are “To the manor ALMOST born” is juicy, and I continue to support Weiner’s decision to do something singular. Also, the show looks amazing, as it ties together a broad swath of characters from different countries. But I wish I hadn’t been so damn enthusiastic at the start.

And that was the moment I realized, once again, that it’s great to be a TV critic.

More than on most arts beats, a TV critic can change his or her mind (or “evolve,” as President Obama did on the topic of same-sex marriage). We can return to reassess shows more easily and naturally than, say, a book critic can return to a book; TV series are ongoing, sometimes across a hundred hours, allowing us years to go back and reconsider. Even in the binge streaming age when entire seasons drop at once, shows nonetheless return year after year, giving TV writers time for a hundred indecisions, visions, and revisions before the airing of the series finale.

Across my TV-reviewing history, I’ve altered my opinion plenty of times. My opinions have been a living thing, in a way, shifting with the quality of the series as well as where I am intellectually at the time of writing the review. When I first saw “Six Feet Under,” I was underwhelmed. But midway through the first season, I fell under its spell — and, perhaps, it improved a bit — and so I went at it again in the Globe, giving it the praise I now thought it deserved. I went back at “Six Feet Under” every season from that point on, charting its highs, lows, and the ultimate high that was the show’s final 10 minutes.


On the other hand, I was able to do with many — too many — other shows what I’ve done in this piece with “The Romanoffs”: Walk it back. “Heroes,” “Glee,” “Prison Break” — I got to chronicle the loss of my initial regard for them, as they sputtered out quickly after their premieres. But, fortunately, my first take did not remain my only take.

Matthew Gilbert can be reached at gilbert@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @MatthewGilbert.