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Ren Faire: The Max Docuseries That's 100% On Rotten Tomatoes & 900% Bonkers

This new documentary miniseries on HBO is like a bizarre combination of "Game of Thrones" and "Succession," two of the network's biggest-ever hits ... and it's all about a real-life Renaissance faire in Texas.

"Ren Faire" brings audiences into the tightly-knit community that runs the massive Texas Renaissance Festival (which runs in Todd Mission, which is just north of Houston) and introduces viewers to the festival's "king," George Coulam. Coulam is, to put it lightly, a strange figure; throughout most of the series' three episodes, he shuffles around either the festival grounds or his bizarrely decorated mansion and passes down sweeping decrees about how things should be run. Coulam is also quite old, and he's aching to retire ... but if and when he does, the big question is who will take over the festival when and if he steps down. Before long, two candidates emerge: general manager and actor Jeffrey Baldwin, and kettle corn maker and energy aficionado Louis Migliaccio, who both want George to hand power over to them. Even the people involved with the show understand the dramatic nature of this battle for succession; at one point, Migliaccio even references "Game of Thrones," saying the title of the show followed by the famous line "You win or you die.")

In an interview with IndieWire, director Lance Oppenheim said that angle presented itself fairly quickly. ""I knew that the succession idea was existentially in the air," he told the outlet. "And by the end of our first shoot, like seven days into this, I had met everybody already, and knew fairly quickly, especially compare to previous projects, what this would be about." So who wins the game of thrones in "Ren Faire," and who metaphorically "dies?"

What happens at the end of Ren Faire?

Nobody "wins," in the end. Despite Louis Migliaccio and Jeffrey Baldwin's battle for the crown, things go pretty terribly for both of them — George Coulam refuses to sell the festival to Migliaccio, and Baldwin is abruptly fired over a hoax regarding contaminated water at the festival. (The most gutting part of the entire series is footage of Baldwin, sobbing, saying that his entire live was wrapped up in the festival and scornfully calling Coulam a "benevolent king.") Though Baldwin ultimately returns to the festival, Coulam not only remains in charge, but even takes up the mantle of general manager.

As Lance Oppenheim told IndieWire in that same interview, he didn't think this tale would go any other way? "It's a story that is so classically American and extremely contemporary to our period of time," he remarked. "It's not about Renaissance festivals, it's about what happens when you're of advanced age and you have accumulated so much power and you have created this massive, amazing, successful business. At what point can you let yourself give it up? And is there anyone that will ever regain or capture the same magic that maybe you once brought to that institution?" Oppenheim is right; nobody in "Game of Thrones" or "Succession" ever actually ceded an ounce of power, but held onto it until their dying breaths (Logan Roy died in an airplane bathroom without retiring on "Succession," for god's sake). So what did critics think of this stunning, inevitable story of power in an unlikely place?

Critics and audiences really loved the intrigue, drama, and flat-out weirdness of Ren Faire

Critics really loved the three-episode run of "Ren Faire." As of this writing, the docuseries has an impressive 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with some reviews comparing it to other huge documentary hits. Cary Darling of The Houston Chronicle did just that, writing, "Like 'Tiger King,' 'Cheer' and the dueling Fyre Festival documentaries, it pulls back a curtain on a backstage world that most only know as members of a cheering audience. But what's beyond the footlights is more likely to elicit gasps than applause." At the Chicago Tribune, Nina Metz invoked "Succession," saying, "A real-life, downmarket version of 'Succession,' it offers a claustrophobic portrait of the festival's eccentric and off-putting founder George Coulam. Judy Berman at Time Magazine felt as if the documentary completely subverted her expectations: "You might think you know what to expect from a doc about a Renaissance festival, but you're almost certainly wrong."

Over at The Daily Beast, Nick Schager praised Lance Oppenheim's vision for the project, saying, "Director Oppenheim paints vivid portraits of these individuals and their intertwined psychodramas, and he embellishes his action by mixing verité material with scenes in which they read scripted expository lines or speak to imaginary figures." Rolling Stone's Ky Henderson appeared to agree: "Regardless of what's happening, the series is never not interesting to watch; disorienting camerawork, saturated colors, long close-ups on subjects' faces twisted with anger, sorrow, and fear." Ultimately, Robert Lloyd at the Los Angeles Times summed it up perfectly: "A quite rewarding, even refreshing, not-overlong watch. And the ending is, in its way, happy."

"Ren Faire" is streaming on Max now.