There was a period just after The “Da Vinci Code movie came out, where everyone around me claimed to have a graduate degree in art history, and expressed themselves in poetry about secret societies and religious symbolism in popular media. Ultimately, Dan Brown’s Robert Langdon books and their subsequent adaptations aren’t that deep.
Following the Harvard symbologist as he travels the world to solve crimes with his knowledge of art history, the hit series consists of luscious action-adventure crime thrillers that sprinkle with more than science and history than their usual genre counterparts (although these facts are probably more sensational History Channel Special than the Art History Specialized Seminar). And it worked: Brown managed to get the attention of good guys in the face of formidable villains with grandiose plans, saving the day with their specific academic skills (with the extra serotonin kick of getting the right answers in the trivia. ).
Peacock’s new series, The lost symbol, based on the third book in the franchise, delivers the same thrill in its first episode, which airs September 16. With its exaggerated puzzles and villainous plot, this episodic take on the material promises the same energy as the books – but with a slightly different take on the main character.
The lost symbol is the only book in Brown’s series to be set primarily in the United States. Unlike some of Langdon’s other novels, which often poll the Catholic Church, this one investigates Freemasons and the founding of America – with a whole lot of weird wit science, because why not? It is familiar territory, and although this adventure comes after the events of Angels and Demons and The “Da Vinci Code, the series makes it more of an origin story for the symbologist.
The first episode kicks off when a pre-dangerous Langdon across Europe (Succession‘s Ashley Zukerman) receives a call from his former mentor, Professor Solomon, and a man claiming to be Solomon’s secretary invites Langdon to come to Washington for a conference. It turns out the man actually kidnapped Solomon and left his severed hand pointed at the ceiling of the Smithsonian. From there, it’s puzzles, clues, and cryptic phone calls – pulling Langdon on a high-stakes mission.
Zukerman imbues Langdon with more stupidity than the character’s often overly suave literary counterpart. This man is an art history teacher, after all! In the books, Brown goes out of his way to constantly remind readers that Langdon is not only a scholar, but also a great athletic water polo player. and a sexy idol with “bedroom eyes” who can’t stop women from constantly flirting with him. The TV version of Langdon is more like an enthusiastic puppy, who is just starting his adventures. It’s endearing and transforms the character of a male power fantasy – the James Bond of the art history world – into someone more accessible (and certainly more likeable than his counterpart in the book). This version of Langdon does not deviate entirely from the novels, but by positioning itself as a prequel, The lost symbol promises an actual arc for Langdon’s character instead of just dragging him around for a savage plot.
And could any part of the plot come to pass in a doable or logical way? No, not at all, like the charm of Robert Langdon’s adventures.
Watch Langdon and a CIA officer uncover hidden treasure using their knowledge of Latin, and throw water at a stone wall to disintegrate written letters to reveal a handle – all while the walls of a bedroom scary cave full of human bones slowly closing – looks like something out of an edutainment video game. The mysteries invite viewers to follow the protagonist; in the case of the Adventures of Langdon, where so many clues come from textbooks, it adds an extra layer of intrigue. Of Classes it’s wacky and completely unrealistic, but given that this is essentially a Carmen SanDiego CD-ROM game for adults, that’s exactly the appeal.
New episodes of The lost symbol premieres Thursdays on Peacock.