Showtime Entertainment // 2011 // 812 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Bill Gibron // September 19th, 2013
The man who would be king of the popes.
Dear TV executives: When someone like Oscar winner Neil Jordan (The Crying Game) comes to you, with the backing of none other than Steven Spielberg, and asks you to fund a four season story arc mini-series centering on one of the most corrupt yet intriguing families ever to sully the Papacy, don't say "OK!" and then cut the narrative off at the knees. In other words, it's cowardly to go ahead with three seasons of something like The Borgias, and then tell fans to take a hike over production costs and slumping ratings. If you make a commitment, stick to it. Don't weasel out and believe that audiences will forgive you. Thus, with the release of this third season set to home video, we see the abrupt end of the highly regarded Showtime event series that, sadly, failed to make the corporate honchos as horny as the previous bodice ripping period piece, The Tudors. In fact, it's safe to say that both Jordan and his various collaborators had more in mind when they delved into this den of inequities than how much nudity and unnecessary violence they could get away with.
As part of a new trend in TV -- call it page turning beach fare programming -- The Borgias is decent enough. It features fine actors, an intriguing historical premise, and enough fictionalization to make it worth coming back to again and again. It's a good show, just not a great one. You wouldn't exactly call it "Must See" cable television. On the other hand, it's a gorgeous and sumptuous work with an era-appropriate art and costume design that often outshines its soap opera-ish scripts. There is nakedness and bloodletting, but it doesn't always overwhelm the unnecessarily complicated storylines.
When last we left the newly elected Pontiff, Rodrigo Borgia (Jeremy Irons, Eragon), he had just been poisoned as part of an assassination attempt. His son Cesare (Francois Arnaud, I Killed My Mother) has married into French nobility and continues to defend his family against the designs of Caterina Sforza (Gina McKee, In the Loop). Lucrezia (Holliday Grainger, Anna Karenina) is suffering through marital difficulties and a propensity toward dabbling in the Black Arts. Micheletto (Sean Harris, Prometheus) helps his friend Cesare trace the source of the plot against the Pope while the villainous Della Rovere (Colm Feore, The Chronicles of Riddick) continues his plans to dethrone Rodrigo.
Made up of ten episodes, the third (and final) season starts out with a resolution-or sorts-to the assassination storyline ("The Face of Death"). We then witness the creation of a Cardinal's Inquisition ("The Purge") and Lucrezia's post wedding bell blues ("Siblings"). Corruption is discovered in the Church treasury ("The Banquet of Chestnuts") as the recent Borgia bride conspires against her father-in-law, King Ferdinand ("The Wolf and the Lamb"). Caterina Sforza continues her fight against the family ("Relics"), Lucrezia continues her complicated political maneuvers ("Lucrezia's Gambit") and pilgrims flood Rome for an upcoming festival ("Tears of Blood"). Finally, Cesare and his sister grow dangerously close ("The Gunpowder Plot") before he takes on the task of laying siege to city of Flori ("The Prince"). Interwoven are stories involving the rest of the Borgia clan, their various compatriots and critics, and an overwhelming sense of something deeply sinister and specious at the center of the family credo. This series surely supports the already rogue reputation of the Borgia clan.
That being said, The Borgias is nothing more than basic cable fodder fluffed up with the contemporary conceit of not sparing the audience any blood or booty. Granted, the red stuff doesn't flow as freely as it does in something like Spartacus, but there's enough violence to make even the most seasoned action man blush. Similarly, if you've seen one set of naked breasts, you've seen several here. There is a desire to keep the audience awake by tossing in such exploitative fare within the center of what is basically a prolonged and pained power struggle. We have no real frame of reference with the Borgias, just rumor, innuendo, and if you play your cards right, an occasional recognition back to high school European History. The acting is uniformly good, though the tendency to paint everyone in disease free, hygienic platitudes can be a bit daft. Nobody in that time had such white teeth, such perfectly coiffed hair, and such a significant lack of body odor.
With some significantly desaturated colors and a flat, European feel, the 1.78:1, 1080p Blu-ray transfer of The Borgias is uniform and polished. There is a significant amount of detail (a lot of work went into the wardrobe, obviously), a real attention to the lavish production values on display, and a significant lack of digital defects. As for the aural elements, the Dolby TrueHD 5.1 surround track does an amazing job with the various spaces and situations present. The speakers offer up a real feeling of immersion within the often massive sets and the dialogue-even the whispering-is crystal clear and easy to decipher. As for added content, don't get your hopes up too high. There's a bloopers reel and an episode of the latest Showtime series, the serviceable Ray Donovan. That's it...and when you consider this ended up being the final season, that's a shame.
So if you like your fantasy fodder laced with a bit of reality, The Borgias can't be beat. Maybe Jordan will get his way and wrap up his four year arc in the proper fashion (so far, no go). On the other hand, if you want quality cable TV entertainment, head over to HBO. Game of Thrones might be on.
Not guilty, but not that great. A standard period drama laced with
contemporary sex and violence.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Showtime Entertainment
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* TrueHD 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 812 Minutes
Release Year: 2011
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Bonus Episode
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