This is a series I watched without having any idea what they are like beforehand. I thought that it might be something different, that’s why I decided to give it a try. I wouldn’t consider Marco Polo as one of the best series I ever watched, but I can’t say I am disappointed either.
The main story is about the Mongols and China in the 13th century. Genghis Khan conquered a vast area including parts of Asia and eastern Europe. (He has 64 million descendants living today). This is the story of his grandson: Kublai Khan, who extended his grandfather's empire into China. The television series places much attention on Kublai's efforts, what motivates him, and his struggle to manage a vast empire that includes many cultures that a son of the Mongolian steppe would be hard pressed to grasp. Kublai was faced with being an agent of change in a society that resists change, that’s why he faced a lot of resistance. It also portrays his wife as an important character who is both strong, wise, and important. And between all those things, Marco Polo enters the story;
Just as the real Marco Polo was sent to the court of Kublai to learn the ways of the Asian empire, the series portrays Marco Polo as an observer and student. You watch him learn. He must adapt himself in the Mongols traditions and way of living, without losing himself. His challenges are many and contribute greatly to the plot. The cultural setting is as authentic as it can be, without confusing a western audience. It is Asian. The rules of behaviour are Asian, and most of the cast are Asians.
The production is a really expensive one, and that is obvious. (I read somewhere that is one of the most expensive productions ever). Also, most of the actors are playing their roles very well, and they “fit” perfectly in them. Especially the acting of Benedict Wong as Kublai Kahn and Joan Chen as Chabi, is a pleasure to watch!
But as for the writing and the storyline, in my opinion is kind of slow, and I found myself trying to continue watching it in a couple of occasions. Especially the 1st season, which is slower than the 2nd one, made me think of stop watching it. But I continued, and I must say that the 2nd season was better by far. The pace was faster, the story became more interesting, and there is a really fantastic and epic episode near the end, which left me speechless! Also, have in mind that you need to pay close attention to each episode to follow each plot line. Some of this is because of my own lack of familiarity with eastern culture. Names are difficult to remember, as are the family relationships, the alliances, the conflicts and the interests of the characters. This is not a show you can watch with one eye. To fully appreciate the story, you must be willing to pay full attention to each episode.
Without being an expert to the history and civilization of the Mongol empire, I assume that this show is something between an actual historical drama, mixed with historical fiction. I can’t say which stories are right and which aren't, but I read something about it recently and I’ll add it here for you: [The story is taken from "IL Milione", known to the English-speaking public as "Book of the Marvels of the World". It was first written down by Rustichello da Pisa from stories told by Marco Polo himself, while held captive in Genoa. It's a collection of descriptions, stories and actual historical facts, and the chronicle of the dialogues between Marco Polo and Kublai Khan. It's an ancient and extensive text (183 chapters), that knew instant celebrity in its time, mainly because it was a first-hand depiction of Medieval Asia: a vast and mostly unexplored continent. The profound impact that the book had on the culture of its time, caused it to be translated, adapted and edited so many times, that the original manuscript had to be reconstructed almost three centuries later. The first attempt to collate manuscripts and provide a critical edition was printed in Venice in 1559. Even in Italy and in Venice, due to its obscure medieval language, the book isn't read as often as it deserves, yet it inspired Columbus to pursue his travels, and represent an invaluable source of information for merchants, cartographers and travellers].
At this point I should inform you that both seasons consists of 10 episodes each. Each episode lasts for almost an hour (give or take), so in order to watch the 2 first seasons you will need almost 20 hours in total. Also, I should mention that the series are not over yet. As far as I know, there is at least one more season coming next.
Now, having these things in mind, it’s up to you if you are going to watch it or not. My opinion is to do so! Be a little patient and be sure that you will be rewarded!
As for my rating, I would give 7.5 for the 1st season and 8.0 for the 2nd one.
IMDB's average rating for both seasons is: 8.1
By clicking on the following link you will be able to watch a trailer for Marco Polo, in case you are interested.