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article imageReview: A newbie's look at Showtime's 'The Borgias' Special

By Mindy Peterman     May 8, 2013 in Entertainment
The story of Rome's most notorious and powerful crime family continues with all the murder and mayhem you would expect. But you may just find some sympathy in your heart for this sword wielding clan. Even if you've never watched the show before.
The quality of television programming both on premium stations and the networks has grown more ambitious and inventive over the past several years. Stories are more complex now and, in most cases, if you haven’t watched a show from the beginning, tuning in a random episode will leave you confounded. The growth of the characters, their personal dramas and the intricacies of their lives are mostly lost on the casual viewer.
So when the nice folks at Showtime sent me a press package featuring the first four episodes of The Borgias Season Three to review, I wasn’t sure I was up to the task. I had never watched the show and, judging by its grandeur and what was sure to be a complex story of Game Of Thrones magnitude, I figured I’d be hopelessly lost the moment the characters started to speak.
I worried needlessly. A recap offered the basics of the series, a Reader’s Digest condensed version, as it were. And by the time Season Three, Episode One began, I was aware that Pope Alexander had been poisoned at the end of Season Two and mayhem would now ensue.
If you’re not familiar with the show, here is the lowdown. The story concerns the Borgias, one of history’s most notorious crime families. Their reign over the Catholic church in 15th century Rome and their struggles to maintain a grip on their power is the crux of this saga. There is much backstabbing (literally and figuratively), treachery, bloodshed and, yes, sex (this is SHOWTIME).
Pretty people abound but they are interesting. In a single episode I was able to muster up a good dollop of sympathies for the Borgias, even if they are murderous folk. Rich and privileged as they are, they seem to have a whole lot of traitorous cardinals, housemaids and manservants wanting to rid the world of them.
Much of the show’s success has to do with its creator and writer Neil Jordan (Crying Game), whose compelling storytelling makes it easy to care about these complex characters. Jeremy Irons cuts a commanding figure as Rodrigo Borgia, aka Pope Alexander, providing a simmering strength to that character, despite (in this episode) the Pope’s weakened, sickly state. Francoise Arnaud and Holliday Grainger portray the Pope’s son and daughter with just the right amount of haughtiness, courage and muster you would expect from those in their position. There is a hint of incestuous behavior here, though, and who knows where that dark secret might lead them.
The one thing I did not find in the episode I previewed was a hint of humor. Granted, the Pope was on his deathbed and his brood were fighting to fend off the vultures, so I’ll cut The Borgias some slack for the ultra seriousness of this hour. It makes me wonder if the previous two seasons meshed some lightness with the dark. This episode was good enough to inspire me to rev up the SHOWTIME Anytime app and start watching The Borgias from the beginning.
The Season 3 premiere of The Borgias is available to view now on
More about Borgias, Jeremy Irons, 15th Century, Showtime, Drama
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