If you’re looking for some holiday binge-watching to satiate your Game of Thrones addiction, Netflix have their fingers crossed you’ll turn to Marco Polo. The series–originally intended for Starz before Netflix and the Weinstein Company swooped in–uses its thirteenth century setting to present a historical drama that’s been widely compared to Game of Thrones. The surface similarities are there: grand political posturing in the court of Kublai Khan (Benedict Wong), fierce medieval battles between the Mongolian and Northern Chinese armies and, perhaps most importantly, comparable production values (Marco Polo reportedly cost $90 million to produce).
Netflix is no doubt hoping to lure Game of Thrones devotees to their new series. They’re also hoping to attract fans of the recently-completed Starz series Spartacus, which is perhaps a greater influence on Marco Polo. Each show centers on a real historical figure that your average audience member knows so little about that they might as well be a fantasy character (Spartacus mostly known for “I am Spartacus!” from the Kubrick film; Polo mostly known for “Marco? Polo!” from the swimming pool game). Combined with a capable cast, this combination of warfare, intrigue, history (and, perhaps unsurprisingly, copious nudity) seems like a winning formula–why then is Marco Polo so disappointing?