It's brilliant, it's tedious, it's cinematic, it's completely ridiculous. It's an anthology series, so you have to expect a certain amount of inconsistency – but this is just the first episode we're talking about here.

Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner's new Amazon Prime Video series The Romanoffs is a bit of a tough sell. If you're looking for the next Mad Men, this certainly isn't it. This is what happens when you've already made a show like Mad Men and now have a creative blank cheque with which to indulge all your most pretentious peak TV fantasies.

The eight-episode series - the first two came out last week, the rest will be released weekly - does have plenty going for it. Each standalone episode is set in a different location around the world and all boast a distinguished cast.

The common thread that ties the anthology together – each episode is about characters who claim to be descendents of the House of Romanov, the Russian royal family executed by the Bolsheviks in 1918 – offers the potential for stories to overlap. Budget does not seem to have been an issue.

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Those first two episodes also clock in at 84 and 86 minutes respectively. They're essentially movies but if you saw either of them at the film festival, which is the level they seem to be aiming at, you'd never trust another glowing booklet write-up again as long as you lived.

The first episode, "The Violet Hour", comes closest to being film fest worthy before collapsing into absurd farce in its third act. Set in Paris, it centres around the incredibly rich and appallingly racist elderly French woman Anushka (Swiss actress Marthe Keller).

Her only living relative is an American nephew (Aaron Eckhart) and his sullen French girlfriend (Louise Bourgoin), who are not-so-subtly waiting around for the old lady to die so they can inherit her palatial apartment. "I see her sometimes in my dreams," Anushka tells her caregiver, "flying over the building in a circle."

Anushka's relationship with her caregiver Hajar (Ines Melab) is the focus of the episode, and what makes it, for a time, so good. What starts with hostility gradually evolves as the pair forge an unexpected bond, the subtle push and pull between the two actresses drawing you in. Then, in the final act, the whole thing sets itself on fire attempting to reach a conclusion that probably didn't need to be reached.

The second episode, "The Royal We", about two halves of an unhappy couple having bleak, thrilling affairs of the heart, finds a more consistent tone – albeit one that feels a bit like a long, expensive episode of Red Shoe Diaries.

Like all anthology series, you still hold out hope that at least one episode will deliver on the series' promise and that maybe then it'll all be worth it. But with each one close to the length of a full movie, it's asking a lot of its audience.

• The Romanoffs is available to stream now on Amazon Prime Video.