If you want to learn about (quasi-)history, Showtime's new series, The Borgias, may be one of the most entertaining, violent and sex-filled ways to do it. Dry textbooks truly cannot live up to this series as a way to watch historical figures behaving very, very badly. The Borgias
begins with the dying words of Pope Innocent VIII in 1492, speaking of the papacy itself: "It was pure once. We have all sullied it with our greed and lechery. Which of you will wash it clean?"
A Spanish cardinal named Rodrigo Borgia (Jeremy Irons) is probably not the guy to do it.
Instead, Borgia becomes Pope Alexander VI through methods that have little to do with holiness and everything to do with corruption, bribery and personal power. The Borgias
recounts this rise in power and the subsequent effect on the entire Borgia family.
Who are these Borgias? Rodrigo Borgia has three sons (Cesare, Juan and Joffre, played by Francois Arnaud, David Oakes and Aidan Alexander, respectively) and one daughter (Lucrezia, played by Holliday Grainger), despite that whole being-Pope thing. The children are prominent members of Roman society, even with their somewhat controversial status. And, as we soon find out, the kids are just as amoral and decadent as their "Holy" father.
In addition to the Borgias themselves, the series is populated with a host of cardinals, mistresses and assassins. Everyone has an individual agenda, and morality is nothing but an ideal more preposterous than Cesare's taster monkey (it doesn't end well for the monkey, by the way).
In essence, The Borgias
is "history porn." Anyone who spent time on Showtime's earlier series, The Tudors
, knows exactly what this means. The characters are actual historical figures, involved in real and often horrifying scandals. And then they have sex. A lot of sex.The Borgias
works best when it focuses on the many conspiracies and schemes necessary to hold power in the Renaissance Vatican. The show only begins to drag when too much time is spent on the politics of the Vatican or on the various religious leaders pontificating about "good" while hypocritically practicing all the evil they can. Fortunately, The Borgias
never strays far from its sex and violence-filled heart.
And the character who best exemplifies that heart is Cesare. We're talking about the guy for whom the term "Machiavellian" was invented after all (really -- Niccolo Machiavelli based The Prince
on Cesare). Cesare works especially well when paired with his hired assassin, Micheletto (Sean Harris). Together, they are devious and ruthless and thoroughly entertaining. Cesare is slightly less fun with his pompous and demanding father and with his younger sister. Hopefully, further scandals will help with that.
It's probably important to note that Cesare is also a priest. A priest who has sex with women from bars, flirts with his teenage sister, assassinates rivals and orchestrates epic bribery. But that's pretty much the point of The Borgias
: there is no chastity (or morality or humility or any other virtue) here.The Borgias
is a history of scandal. And Showtime's sumptuous production is just full enough of sex, lies and violence to make even the viewing feel slightly scandalous. It can drag slightly at times, but the many sins have the virtue of drawing us back in every time.The Borgias
will premiere on Sunday, April 3 at 9 PM on Showtime.
Click play to learn more about the history of The Borgias
.(Image and video courtesy of Showtime)