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Pope Jeremy Irons very much looks forward to ripping your bodice off - in beautiful high-definition...!
Paramount / 467 Minutes / 2011 / Unrated / Street Date: December 27, 2011
When we meet Rodrigo Borgia (Jeremy Irons), he has one thing in mind: Becoming pope. It's late 15th-century Rome, and when Pope Innocent VIII passes away, what may have been a glimmer in ol' Rodrigo's eyes turns into a full-fledged frenzy. This is in keeping with the rest of The Borgias: The First Season, seeing as 'frenzy' is an optimal term for the show.
A de facto Mensa candidate compared to other bodice-ripping historical dramas like Camelot or The Tudors, The Borgias gets a pass because it does the good deed of balancing riveting performances and lush, almost overpowering production value with its revolving door of jiggling ta-tas. There's a popping, overdramatic pull to The Borgias - again, I'd call it a 'frenzy' - but there's enough emotional gravitas to the series' inaugural season to keep the thing afloat.
Irons is surrounded by engaging performers here: Colm Feore plays Cardinal Giuliano Della Rovere, Roridgo's nemesis, and Joanne Whalley brings a deviant glee to her role as Vannozza die Cattanei, Rodrigo's mistress and baby-mama. As an ensemble, this collection of actors don't immediately resort to scenery-chewing - instead they brood and plot with calculated, elegant panache.
The Borgias is the kind of series I found myself slightly embarrassed to sit through - it sinks its hooks into quickly and firmly enough early on that you take for granted a lot of the show's flagrant, romance-novel eros - but it's easy to understand why the series has the fan base it does. This is historical romance and powerplay with big-Hollywood money behind it, enough to flush out any and all 'frenzy' around each one of its opulent story arcs. You may not be able to legitimately call it a good show, but you'll eat it up, nonetheless.