Dylan McKeon takes a look at the latest offering from Netflix themselves, adventure drama Marco Polo.
Exams finished, Christmas over, holidays until the end of January and a whole pile of nothing to do? It looks like it’s time for Netflix.
Upon seeing a few advertised tweets, probably the very first that have ever worked on me, I decided that I’d try and chip away at the many hours of holiday time I have left by diving into Marco Polo, a Netflix exclusive. That’s a stamp of quality in itself – the site has given us House of Cards and Orange is the New Black, to name but a few. Offering ten episodes which premiered simultaneously on December 12th it is well worth the watch, and not just to kill time until you’re mired in procrastination hell.
Italy native Lorenzo Richelmy takes the lead as Marco Polo, the Venetian traveller caught in Kublai Khan’s grasp after travelling with his father and uncle to Mongolia. Kublai takes a liking to Marco and he’s soon thrown into the Mongol court, becoming an adviser of sorts to the Khan. The show hits out with the same political drama associated with House of Cards and Game of Thrones. The Khan’s court is a web of lies and plots every bit as much as King’s Landing. Polo strikes the audience as a young Frank Underwood or Tyrion Lannister, although he does lack the wit and charisma of the aforementioned. 
Marco makes enemies at every turn, and far less friends. He quickly learns he’s more prisoner than guest and any wrong word will bring his end. Much like other Netflix exclusives such as House of Cards and Lilyhammer, our lead is manipulative, silver tongued and well able to talk himself out, and more often in, to trouble.
Kublai Khan is portrayed excellently by Benedict Wong. He’s a man no longer in his prime, but with his eyes on one goal, China. The audience are faced with two sides of one man - a somewhat noble father figure, but also a childlike tyrant, quickly disposing of his pawns once they’ve fulfilled their purpose. Usually cold and decisive, when he doesn’t get what he wants, he is prone to childish outbursts and fits of rage. Like Joffrey Baratheon, but not so easily despised. The audience will find themselves with a very hot and cold relationship with Kublai, often loving the man and hating the Conqueror. 
The plot’s good, if a bit random. Episodes seem to go from one to the other, often with no particular direction, but all inevitably lead to a fairly climactic, satisfying finale. The show’s somewhat rewarding, but I found it void of those moments in television that leave your heart in your throat. There are no Red Weddings in Marco Polo. Then again, the show can’t exactly kill off a young, aspiring lead when he’s lived to the age of 69 in reality, can it?  
We don’t get very many likable characters in Marco Polo. Most seem to be working toward their own ends. Tom Wu plays an excellent role as Hundred Eyes, a blind Taoist monk who’s been tasked with training Polo for Mongolian life. As well as this, he’s Polo’s only friend for a long time, no matter how many times he denies it. Hundred Eyes may be the one of the few likeable characters, because unlike anyone else he’s neutral. Everyone else has some sort of hidden agenda, either hating Polo, or hating the Khan. 
The few friendships Polo has are a breath of fresh air in a vacuum of conspiration, his bond with the Khan and the few Mongols who’ll tolerate him are usually the only source of humour for the audience. There are few moments of friendship in Marco Polo, but the fact that every other scene is either plotting a murder, talking about murder, or – you guessed it- murder, they contrast well and make the characters a little less one dimensional. Unsurprisingly Marco Polo also offers love interests, creepy arch-enemies who play with bugs, and some fairly witty one liners. It is Netflix after all. 
The show hasn’t been doing too bad with reviews either, it’s received an 8.3 on IMDB, but fell flat on its face with Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic, with average reviews on both offering less than a five out of ten.
 In my own opinion Marco Polo is well worth the watch, but it’s not quite as hard hitting as other Netflix exclusives. The audience doesn’t get the same level of satisfaction as when Frank Underwood’s latest political plots leave his competition reeling, but Marco Polo shows promise. The finale was satisfying if a small bit underwhelming, but being only ten episodes in, this was to be expected.

For a first season it was good, it’s built a good staging ground for season two and I for one look forward to it. Sure it’s a little lack lustre, underwhelming and drags on for a bit more than needed, but on the other hand so do the Christmas holidays. There’s not really a whole pile to lose, is there?