The Borgias: It’s Pretty Okay, Guys!
I avoided watching Showtime’s newest costume fuck-fest, The Borgias, for a fair amount of time. My reasoning was completely valid; well, as valid as any reasoning involving televsion-watching could be.
Reason the first I avoid watching The Borgias.
Embarrassingly enough, I watched, like, all of The Tudors. All of it. And frankly, there was no excuse. The minute Jonathan Rhys Meyers, with his ambiguous sexuality and creepy lion eyes, strutted onto the screen, I actually quietly went, “Oh nooooo,” in anticipation of how awful it was going to be. And it was – it WAS awful! Except you got to see his butt a lot, and the lady who played Anne Boelyn looked like a pug, so that was entertaining, and they maaaaay have intercut her walking to get her head chopped off with Henry eating a giant feast, angrily, and then looking at some swans so that was also good. But I mean, I even kept watching – through the final season! Where JRM’s portrayal of my favorite absolute monarch was little more than spray-on white hair dye, fat padding, and an impression everyone does of their grandfather. The show’s writers made the mistake everyone does with the story of Henry, the Tudor King: they focused on his sex life and not on say, oh I don’t know, THE CREATION OF THE ANGLICAN CHURCH? HIS WAR MONGERING? Oh my god even talking about it now, why did I do this to myself? Jesus. My only excuse is my love of this era and also Charles Brandon. Moving on.
Reason the second I avoided watching The Borgias.
I live in New York City (NEW YORK CITY?!) and the posters for the show basically slapped me in the face every time I got on a subway car. I’d be all, “Man, did I forget to download the new This American Life? Did I wear this yesterday? Am I – did I forget to remove my zit cream? WHY IS IT SO EARLY?” and BOOM – Jeremy Irons! Dressed like a Cardinal! Sexy Ladies! A brother and sister who are too close! I’d be all “SHOWTIME. STOP TRYING TO MAKE THE BORGIAS HAPPEN.”
Reason the third I avoided The Borgias.
Jeremy Irons. Because for all of his talent and impressive resume, I see him and immediately think of Scar, and then I’m thinking of all of The Lion King, and then I’m singing “Be Prepared” and then I’m crying because Mufasa (spoilers) DIES, y’all! Oh man let’s move on before I need a hug or something.
Reason the forth I avoided The Borgias.
Because my dad (spoilers) is a Catholic Priest, which (in addition to being another story for another day) makes me vaguely bored by any and all dramatizations about SEXY TIMES IN THE VATICAN. No joke; when my youngest brother and I first saw the trailer for this show in a local movie theatre we were all, “Is Jeremy Irons saying The Lord’s Prayer….sexily?” You guys it was weird.
And finally, reason the Fifth I avoided The Borgias.
I hate it when the media promotion for a series doesn’t match the content – AND YOU CAN TELL. That’s an example of very weak advertising, very weak story telling, or very weak communication skills – three things I cannot abide. So you show me scenes of church drama, of big ol’ battles (you guys – the French totally revolutionized the cannon, just FYI) and the Most English Man On The Planet and then as a tag-line give me “Italy’s First Crime Family,” I’m going to think two things: You guys; the Medicis? And then I will think, ‘This is not The Sopranos. STOP TRYING TO MAKE THE BORGIAS THE SOPRANOS, SHOWTIME.”
Eventually and in spite of all the (very good and completely valid) reasons not to watch the show, I caved. Probably because Jeremy Irons has magical eyes full of roofies. That or I have basically no life, and if I’m not talking about a TV show, I’m not talking, so I have to watch most things.
And you guys – I was pleasantly surprised.
Thinking on it now, I shouldn’t have been. Showtime – though still a bit mired in straight-up sex-sells marketing – has, over the past five years; given us a series of, well, series (serieses? serii?) dedicated to complex themes and more importantly, complex women. They tend to produce shows that go for both the money shot and the truly dynamic nature of the human person, observed over time - something television as a medium is designed for, but you seldom see utilized. The dynamic part – you get the money shot all over the place.
I’m now seven epsiodes into the series and you guys, you should really watch this shit.
Everything you need to know about the show’s potential arc you get in the first five minutes. Cesare Borgia sexes up a woman, gets out of bed and puts on….his bishop’s robes – all while his sister (played by Holliday Grainger – note, SHE IS THE NEW AMANDA SEYFRIED MARK MY WORDS) watches outside from a courtyard. “You’re a bishop?” the faceless booty in the bed asks; “By day,” he offers, “By night I am who I would be.” Thus the duality of life in Rome at the end of the 15th Century is summed-up quite nicely. It is fascinating to actually SEE the corruption in Rome after HEARING about it in so many damn English Renaissance-themed TV dramas.
Cesare then hears a sound outside the window and abandons the woman in his bed to rush out to his sister’s side, where in an instant we understand that Cesare is a man divided by his love for his family and his desire to become the warrior-soldier his brother Juan, general of the Vatican, essentially, is.
The relationships are complexly rendered by Neil Jordan(of all people!). Cesare’s ardent platonic passion for his sister is unerving yet sweet; his connection with his powerful would-be pope Father, Roderigo Borgia, is one of mutual respect and severe misunderstanding (your dad is the Pope. That basically demands a fucked-up power dynamic.). Even Cesare’s relationship with God is fraught – a faithful man, he is hardly religious.
The show succeeds where The Tudors failed – one, the acting is vastly superior, VASTLY. Two, turns out I’m into Jeremy Irons; the dude rocks my socks off (Lion WHO?) And three, it is just as interested in the politics of the time as it with the sexiness of the time – this, my friends, makes for a superior costume drama. AND I SHOULD KNOW YOU GUYS. When I sit down to watch The Borgias, I’m not only going, “Oh Lucrezia’s husband, that brute! She deserves to find solace in the arm’s of Paolo the groom!” but I’m also going, “Those fucking Sforzas promised to ally their troops in defense of Rome against the French! They are needed! Oh God, I hope Machiavelli does something awesome in Florence and doesn’t allow the Duke to cede all his power.”
A final note, Cesare Borgia is played by Francois Arnaud – WHO CAN GET IT: