A historically correct but tonally jarring aspect of the pilot involves Damiens’ attempted regicide — first, his attempt on the king’s life and then his torture and execution via drawing and quartering. Anyone who has read Michael Foucault’s book Discipline and Punish cannot forget that the very brutal execution of Damiens is the opening anecdote. As a result, I spent a lot of the Casanova episode distracted not just by Foucault’s theories of the prison (ever-relevant today) and the carceral, but also in recalling the extremely gruesome description of this death that opens his book. Giacamo Casanova actually witnessed the execution and wrote about his disgust in his memoirs, a fact which interested me far more in the historical figure than the show did.
A second hurdle for me came in the form of Heath Ledger. Perhaps you remember Lasse Hallström‘s very silly 2005 adventure comedy, Casanova, which starred Ledger and Sienna Miller. It has a glowing “44% fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes, but I swear, it’s a charming film, one that at its best recalls Errol Flynn, which is exactly what this whole genre is going for. Diego Luna may be more appropriately caddish, sultry, and Italian-seeming than Ledger, but the material he’s working with is, for the time being, less juicy.
Most viewers of this Casanova are not going to be distracted by philosophers’ tracts on punishment or old romantic comedies, to be fair. The question, given that this is a mere a pilot of uncertain fate, is: does this hour have enough promise to merit a full-season commitment? It’s hard to wager. If Amazon, like most of the women of Europe, decides to go all the way with Casanova (see what I did there?), the series will probably improve and find its own niche, and it might even turn out to be excellent. But that doesn’t change the fact that the pilot can’t quite pull off a seduction.