British actor Tom Riley stars as Leonardo da Vinci in...

British actor Tom Riley stars as Leonardo da Vinci in Starz' "Da Vinci's Demons," premiering April 12 Credit: MCT

THE SHOW "Da Vinci's Demons"

WHEN | WHERE Friday at 10 p.m. on Starz (at 9 p.m. starting next Friday)

WHAT IT'S ABOUT Leonardo da Vinci (Tom Riley) was a genius, but also a man of cunning, haunted by his past, and obsessed with destiny. An encounter with a mysterious person known only as Al-Rahim -- "The Turk" (Alexander Siddig) -- leads him in the quest of a so-called "Book of Leaves." But Pope Sixtus (James Faulkner) also wants this book.

Meanwhile, in the ripe fullness of Medici Florence, Leonardo is in his element. And while his ambitions exceed the discovery of flight -- he's also trying to figure out how to get Lorenzo Medici's (Elliott Cowan) lover, Lucretia (Laura Haddock) into bed. The series is produced by David S. Goyer, whose credits include the "Blade" trilogy, "The Dark Knight," "The Dark Knight Rises" and ABC's "FlashForward."

MY SAY After "FlashForward" flopped a few years ago, Goyer did the professional equivalent of taking his marbles and going home. He wrote a "Call of Duty" video game and then the forthcoming Superman movie, "Man of Steel," with longtime collaborator Christopher Nolan.

But TV is where Goyer really belongs. He's got an interesting voice, big cinematic ideas and a comic-book sensibility, which TV (and viewers) covet these days. In fact, with "Demons," Goyer makes the case that Leonardo -- with his protean talents and taste for gadgets -- was really just a Renaissance Batman. And Riley rises to the challenge of making him one. His Leo is full of antic energy, but also full of himself, plus he has Batman's keen sense of both justice and self-glorification.

The Florence of "Demons" is a little bit like a Renaissance Gotham City, too -- a dark seething place packed with intrigue, beauty, debauchery and sinister forces. This makes the series sumptuous to look at but also makes you wonder whether this is just another ambitious comic book bristling with the usual sex, violence and historic bowdlerizations we've come to expect at Starz ("Spartacus," which ends Friday, by the way).

In fact, "Demons" -- at least so far -- promises something richer and deeper.

BOTTOM LINE Leonardo may not like what Starz has turned him into, but you probably won't mind this joy ride.


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