TV Review: ‘Genius: Picasso’ Looks at the Life of the Artist

As the anthology series has continued to gain popularity, there have been many ways in which the format has been used to bring these stories to life. Perhaps the most exciting has been the focus of turning traditional biopics into multipart series. Some of these stories have featured larger than life figures, and one such series that benefits from this route are “Genius” from National Geographic. After a successful first season brought Albert Einstein (Geoffrey Rush) to life in a stunning performance. By the look of it, “Genius: Picasso” looks to continue the tradition. Focusing on one history’s greatest and most dramatic painters is a smart move for a limited series. Yet the overdramatic writing severely hurts the series from being a masterpiece.

Antonio Banderas is very strong as the famed painter. He’s the latest actor to move to television and completely disappear into a role. When we get Banderas in the role, we can feel the years of weariness and struggle in each scene. He lives in the performance, and truly elevate the weak script he’s working with. It’s a transformation that finds its way into his mannerisms, facial expressions, and negative space. It’s truly a great performance from Banderas.

The scenes with Pablo as a child and growing up move extremely fast. The speed with which the show burns through his childhood is distracting and makes you wonder if it is even needed at all. As the show delves into melodrama, it’s apparent the flashbacks are the worst offender. Some of these scenes have extraordinarily cheesy dialogue. It feels like every one of the scenes is yearning for the actor playing Picasso to scream “but I just want to paint!” The performances do not help the cause, with each one essentially doing an imitation of Banderas as a younger man. It feels fresh and natural coming from Banderas, but the others cannot make Banderas’ fire feel realistic. The only actor who comes close is Alex Rich, but he’s weighed down by poor writing. Sadly, he’s forced into the performance based on the energy required to make the scenes work.

Meanwhile, scenes of Spain in the late 1930s and during World War II are exquisite. Not only does the show spare no expense by showcasing CGI, but it adds stakes in these moments. We see the Germans using Spaniards as practice for bombing runs. Women and children are killed, and the stakes are set. The show takes its time with these moments and builds up to the important moments. Once Picasso reaches Paris, the production design really takes off. The city of Paris is brought to life in stunning detail, in both train stations and city streets.

“Picasso” also features some very strong instrumentals and a score unlike others on television. It’s very strong work from Lorne Balfe, who imbues classical Spanish guitar into the DNA of the show. It feels perfectly at home as it brings the Spanish painter’s life to the small screen. It also livens up several scenes throughout the episodes and helps make the show feel like it can take its time in scenes.

The series is interesting at times. Yet despite a strong performance from Banderas, the rest of the show feels dragged down. The writing could certainly be better, and at times it stalls the show out. The melodramatic moments of the show drag the show down to a halt. Hopefully, as the show progresses, “Picasso” finds its footing. In the meantime, stay for the Banderas and enjoy the silly melodrama as it comes.

What do you think? Did you enjoy the premiere of “Genius: Picasso?” Let us hear in the comments below!

“Genius: Picasso” airs Tuesdays on the National Geographic Channel.

GRADE: (★★)