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TV Series Review

Europe was a backwater in the 13th century, filled with squabbling kings and lords and bishops. The East was where the real action was.

The Mongol Empire dwarfed those of Rome and Persia. Alexander's mighty realm would've shivered in its shadow. It stretched from modern-day Turkey to China and beyond. The Mongols expanded their sprawling space by bringing down king and kingdom, destroying whole villages and slaughtering their citizens. By the latter half of the 1200s, Kublai Khan—nominal ruler over this endless stretch of land—was thought by many Europeans to be in league with Satan himself.

Sounds like a great guy to visit, doesn't he?

Marco Polo thinks so. He decides to sneak aboard his dad's ship when his father, Niccolò, is opening a trade route between Europe and Kublai's Khanate. And when Niccolò hands over young Marco to the Great Khan as something of a poker chip, well, there's not much Marco could do but make the best of it.

History knows Marco Polo, of course, as one of the world's greatest adventurers—a man who inspired many an explorer thereafter (including Christopher Columbus) as well as countless watery games of hide and seek. For Netflix, though, Marco Polo serves as another sort of inspiration: a series far more interested in exploring the intricacies of sexual politics than Kublai's exotic empire.

The inaugural season of Marco Polo (released in its entirety Dec. 12, 2014) deals with Kublai's efforts to quell the stubborn Chinese city of Xiangyang (and thus bring all of China to heel), while Marco becomes ever more familiar with Mongol and Chinese culture.

But the fact that he, and others, grow so familiar with one another—as in intimately familiar—makes this show far more objectionable than your typical PBS doc on European adventurers. The sex and nudity here, unfettered by any sort of TV network standards, can be both pervasive and extreme. Women cavort partly or sometimes completely unclothed, and everyone, it seems, engages in all manner of sultry, sleazy, sweaty escapades.

This new land for Marco can also be a place of great danger, strife and cruelty. We see people fight and kill in sometimes very bloody ways. Corpses can litter the screen, impaled and/or rotting.

History geeks like me might appreciate the feel of this series. But lessons about the complexity and surprising liberality of that age-old Far East civilization are learned at one's personal peril.

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Marco-Polo: 12-12-2014



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Lorenzo Richelmy as Marco Polo; Benedict Wong as Kublai Khan; Joan Chen as Empress Chabi; Remy Hii as Princess Jingim; Zhu Zhu as Kokachin; Tom Wu as Hundred Eyes; Mahesh Jadu as Ahmad; Olivia Cheng as Mei Lin; Uli Latukefu as Byamba; Chin Han as Jia Sidao; Amr Waked as Yusuf






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Paul Asay

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