The Borgias Review: Series Premiere

By Steve West 2011-04-03 01:09:30 discussion comments
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In fourteen hundred and ninety two Columbus sailed the ocean blue; and the Borgias reigned supreme as the first family of crime. Set during a pivotal time in human history, Showtime’s The Borgias aims to update the crime drama by looking to its origins. It’s certain that Tony Soprano and Vito Corleone would never have existed without the exploits of Rodrigo Borgia and his family. Show creator Neil Jordan (The Crying Game) clearly has relished his research into the historical facts of the time only to use them to weave a tale of corruption, power, familial love, murder, and lasciviousness.

While the Starks and Lannisters are preparing to battle for the Iron Throne later this month they had better keep a close eye on Rodrigo Borgia (Jeremy Irons). It’s not clear how soon the Borgia family will run into true, empire ending, trouble but right now they are in firm control. No other character on television at the moment is so simultaneously power hungry and exemplary at attaining his goals.

In 1492 Pope Innocent VIII died, and by apparent purchase of St. Peter’s throne did Rodrigo Borgia attain the Papacy to become Pope Alexander VI. Seen by history as one of, if not the, most vile and corrupt men to ever sit as leader of the Catholic world. This, it should be said, was pretty much like being Emperor of Planet Earth at that time. The Borgia family history is a fascinating study, which is likely why it has been used to create stories such as The Godfather.

Borgias is most definitely not a history lesson, it’s a crime drama in every sense of the genre. A powerful patriarch who loves his family dearly, but not nearly as much as he loves power, schemes his way to the top. He’s a man who does nothing different than his contemporaries, except that he does it so much better. His enemies hate him not only for the elevation of status, but also because they failed to do the same.

Cesare (Francois Arnaud) is the eldest son, reluctant to follow in his father’s footsteps. He would be content to lead the armies to help his family, but dad has bigger plans. Raised to the position of Cardinal, Cesare is poised to take over once Rodrigo passes. Cesare would do anything to protect his family, but there’s hesitation when it comes to matters of serving the church. He would rather be free to act as defender without the political machinations of the Vatican. Luckily he finds help in what may be the most interesting character in the series, Micheletto (Sean Harris). The assassin is a chillingly fun man to watch on screen, and will make you constantly wonder how he’s going to kill his next target.

Juan Borgia (David Oakes) is the military might of the family. Although he at first does appear to be a bit out of his league, once given that role officially he takes to it quite nicely. Almost relishing the power he holds, right down to making sure the servant holds the light high enough for the armor to glitter. Lucrezia (Holliday Grainger) is the beautiful young daughter of the Borgia family, a prize to any man. The question is what man has the worthy status to be allowed to marry her?

Jeremy Irons always imbues his bad guys with such forceful presence, and that is true here. In fact the moment when the Super Pope Hat (not to be confused with the every day Extra Tall Pope Hat) is placed on his head Irons plays the scene with such reverential ecstasy you can’t help but shiver for a moment. Who is this man, and what the hell has the College of Cardinals allowed to happen? This is followed not long after with a conversation between Pope Alexander VI and his mistress, and mother of his children, Vanozza (Joanne Whalley) where he reveals that he is now unable to continue their carnal relationship. “Must we take vows of poverty, too?” She asks him as he looks at her shocked and replies simply. “God forbid.”

The problem The Borgias has is that you really are not rooting for anyone, there’s no hero to the story. While the scheming and corruption makes for a great hour of entertainment, you have no one to latch onto. Spartacus: Blood and Sand has proven that you can take a historically factual character and make a great television series of his life. But Spartacus had not only a hero you cared about, but villains as well. Without a great good guy there’s a chance the assassinations and political power maneuverings of the Borgia family could get tedious.

Even so with a cast this deep and talented it’ll be fun to watch no matter how things turn out for the series. The Borgias is not grand in it’s world scope, feeling quite closed into the world of the Vatican, but it more than makes up for that with the lust for power that belongs to Rodrigo Borgia. It may shock some to see how powerful the Catholic Church once was, especially modern secularists who rail against a Church that is a mere fraction of its former glory. The truth is that in the end The Borgias is just a whole lot of fun to watch.

The Borgias premieres Sunday, April 3rd at 9:00 PM ET with a two hour event. The show will air Sundays at 10:00 PM ET.
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