TV: The Great (Season 3)

Hulu’s superb “anti-historical” comedy The Great continues with another stellar arc in its third season. Gleefully skewering the historical record, it involves the contentious political strivings of Catherine the Great (Elle Fanning) to reform the brutal societal norms of eighteenth-century Russia. Catherine faces numerous challenges to her work. There are the country’s stultifying political traditions and strict religious dogma, for which Catherine relies (probably too much) on the insights of her depraved sister-in-law Elizabeth (Belinda Bromlow) and a dastardly archbishop (Adam Godley), respectively. But her biggest barrier to success may be her perverse love for Peter (Nicholas Hoult), her predecessor on the throne—whom she ousted and attempted to assassinate before forging an unlikely familial détente. As Peter settles unexpectedly into an unlikely role as something of a stay-at-home father, Catherine seeks to move on with her progressive agenda, but a swirl of schemes and political headwinds threatens to impede her every move.

If you’re looking for dark, ribald comedy and scathing satire, The Great truly lives up to its name. This is a gloriously funny show, liberally cribbing from and then mutating history in service to piercing comedy about humanity’s base, political nature. It boasts impressive period costumery and a uniformly brilliant cast, headlined by Fanning and Hoult but loaded with other silver-tongued talent, nary a weak link in the cast. But the real star of The Great is the writing, led by Tony McNamara, who fills the characters’ mouths with gloriously penetrating dialogue ranging from the uproarious to the gutting. It’s possible the extended churn of production slightly strains the premise this season, as the writers are forced to reach for more and more conflict, but if so, the strain is nearly imperceptible. This series shows no signs of running out of entertaining drama, innuendo, vitriol, and wit. Huzzah!

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