Showtime, having mined period
re-creation success with The Tudors, reverts 30
years further into the Renaissance, this time at
the Vatican, with The Borgias.

I’ll leave it for the viewer
to decide which history book
has it right, but Showtime’s
presentation, over the course
of the first two installments,
delves deeply into the duplicity
and debauchery of the
notorious Borgias clan.

Cardinal Rodrigo Borgias
(Jeremy Irons) is a Spanish
outsider in the realm of Rome, who, upon the
passing of Innocent VIII, seizes the opportunity to
become Pope Alexander VI.

Alexander has two sons, one of cloth and one
of armor. The latter, Juan (David Oakes), is illequipped
for his military leadership position, with
his personality stored largely within his steel suit.
Cleric Cesare (Francois Arnaud), who wants to be
a soldier, makes for a better field general policing
the papal dwelling and dad’s doings. He is
bestowed with much of the show’s good dialogue
and intriguing duties.

Lucrezia Borgia (Holliday Grainger) is a
14-year-old family asset, whose single status
will soon be traded for marriage and political
and fiscal advantages to be named later.

Alternately weary and dismissive or taunting
and sanctimonious, Alexander’s
“aim” is to cleanse the
sullied throne of St. Peter,
as well as any of his adversaries.

The first hour unwinds
slowly, with storyline and
character introductions set
against the white-smoke
manipulation of the College
of Cardinals. It’s a construct one can imagine is
not so dissimilar to an assemblage of FIFA officials.
The action picks up in the second hour,
with more play for the malevolent and mischievous
Micheletto (Sean Harris) and Alexander rival
Cardinal Della Rovere (Colm Feore), as well as
the introduction of comely new mistress Giulia
(Lotte Verbeek), her budding friendship with
Lucrezia and its impact on Borgias matriarch
Vanozza (Joanne Whaley).

Promotion billed The Borgias as the first family
of crime, and the inspiration for Mario Puzo’s The
. Alexander kisses both of his rivals, a la
Michael and Fredo Corleone. There are also bits
of The Sopranos and Bada Bing with the passage
from the Vatican to mistress Giulia’s residence.
But when a servant espies the nightly papal booty
calls, rival Cardinal Della Rovere (Colm Feore) has
canonical law on his side to capsize His Holiness.

It’s all very lurid and sordid with confessional
come-ons, various characters’ tastes for flagellation,
incestuous flirtations and poetic language,
steeped in religion and sexual innuendo,
salted by bits of Latin (concubium).

But it’s best left said to Cesare, who asks Micheletto:
“Whom are we to thrust in this Rome
of ours?” Who, indeed. That’s why it looks The
will live up to its tagline of “Sex. Power.
Murder. Amen.”

The latter is Showtime’s entreaty, not mine.