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What I Wished I Watched Last Night

Hang on to your sable-lined lambskin hats historical drama fans! HBO and the BBC have done it again with their latest offering, I, Genghis, a sprawling, scintillating new ten-part series that combines generous helpings of lusty, fur-trimmed tunic-ripping with bloody thirteenth century Mongolian geopolitics.

Writer-producer Michael Hirst (The Tudors, Elizabeth) masterfully balances opulent sets, rich costumes, Machiavellian plotting, and full-frontal nudity with walloping doses of historical veracity, severed limbs, bestiality, and sizzling, goat-milking wenches in woolen undergarments. Last night I watched "Episode Three, The Trouble with Tartars", and I can tell you, I'm absolutely hooked. If you're an avid armchair traveler, you'll find this lavish production really delivers. Exotic locales like Ulaanbaatar, Zuunkharaa, and the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden in Vancouver have never looked sexier!

Young viewers take heart. This isn't your mother's Genghis Khan. In contrast to most depictions of an elderly, overweight, genocidal warlord, Hirst's Genghis is a charming wag with impeccable comic timing, unquenchable lust, and a set of Tae-Bo hardened washboard abs to match. A veteran actor who defies pigeonholing, Ashton Kutcher pumps tight-trousered virility into this libidinous young Khan, Gengie, who, by the age of 17, has already shown himself to be quite the lover of fermented mare's milk, women, and song by fathering eight children. In "Episode Two, The Wrath of Khan", he marries his first wife, beds her three sisters, exercises his droit de seigneur with the girl who milks the camel, composes several naughty and amusing limericks about a girl from Nepal, and declares war on the Ta'yichiut. And that's just in the first twelve minutes!

But life wasn't all salty milk tea and gilled marmot for the would-be ruler. In a heartbreaking scene from "Episode One, He Was a Mongoloid", Little Gengie's beloved Tibetan mastiff, Taffy, runs away from home. Taffy, like Kane's rosebud, is an emblem of Genghis's lost childhood. Genghis searches desperately for unconditional love the only way he knows how: by castrating his enemies and giving his "whistling arrow" to every moist hole this side of the Volga.

And if you're having reservations because you fell asleep in your History and Culture of Central Asia 1100-1300 class, you can relax. You'll probably remember more members of Genghis's conniving and tantalizing nomadic posse than you think; his impulsive drug addicted sister Yushi (Scarlett Johansson), his opportunistic sex addicted son Senggum (Tobey Maguire), his alcohol addicted lesbian daughter Mei (Jessica Alba), and who could forget Ong, the fast talking grandfather with a gambling problem (Clive Owen).

In last night's episode, Genghis's first wife, Börte (Reese Witherspoon) gave birth to a male heir exactly nine months after she was rescued from a kidnapping by the Merkits, leaving everyone to wonder if baby Jochi is really Genghis's child. Meanwhile, Yushi helped Senggum plot against his half-brother Bekhter. Genghis's growing appetite for a legitimate male heir and new conquests for his sheepskin duvet led him straight into the open legs of the neighboring yakherd's buxom daughter, who later discovers that Genghis has indeed put a Baozi in her oven. And all Ong wants is a quiet night in the yurt but that seems impossible now that his evil twin Ogedei has arrived. The episode ends with a familiar scene; a seductive Genghis pouring molten silver flirtatiously into his enemy's eyes, ears, and mouth.

The next two episodes ("Episode Four, So Dark the Khan of Man" and "Episode Five, It's Good to Be the Khan") will air later this month. The two-hour finale ("Episode Ten, Steppe by Steppe") will include a cameo by Lou Diamond Phillips as Kublai Khan.


Posted on July 12, 2007

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