I have come to the conclusion that I'll try out any pilot that airs on Showtime from now until the foreseeable future. Over the past 5 years or so, they've proved to me that they've become just at good at developing original programming as seasoned premium cable juggernaut HBO. This, plus Jeremy Irons, is the reason why I gave 'The Borgias' a try. I wasn't particularly interested in the time period or the subject matter, but I thought that Showtime hasn't steered me wrong for quite a while, I'll see what they have here.
Boy, am I glad I made that decision. 'The Borgias' filled a hole that was left ever since HBO's 'Rome' ran its course. It's a lavish period piece with all manner of devious, maniacal and power-hungry characters vying to be top dog. 'Rome' was one of a kind, but 'The Borgias' doesn't seem like a cheap knockoff. I have to be honest, after seeing a few of the previews that's exactly what I thought we were getting. I was wrong.
Created by famed director Neil Jordan, 'The Borgias' tells the tale of what is purported to be the "original crime family." They were so infamous that Mario Puzo, author of "The Godfather" based his book loosely on this family. Now we get to see what they were really like, with quite a few Hollywood tweaks of course.
The story is relatively simple. Rodrigo Borgia (Irons) has wormed his way into the papacy by bribing, cajoling, and promising favors to his fellow cardinals. Now that he's obtained the holy throne he'll do whatever it takes to stay on top. He appoints his smartest son Cesare (François Arnaud) as a fellow cardinal while he makes his younger son Juan (David Oakes) Vatican City's military advisor. His relationship with his wife is strained to say the least. Finally, there is the Borgia daughter Lucrezia (Holliday Grainger) who seems demure, but also has a lot of her father in her.
Rodrigo Borgia soon becomes obsessed with power. Well, he was already obsessed with power, but now he's determined to keep it at all costs. A fellow cardinal has other plans. He's sick that a Spaniard like Borgia has found himself as pope, and will do anything to overthrow him. Giuliano Della Rovere (Colm Feore) is the cardinal who wants Borgia ousted. Much of the season revolves around Della Rovere and Rodrigo Borgia playing a high-stakes game of chess. Trying to outsmart each other, but somehow Borgia always seems to be one step ahead.
Rodrigo Borgia soon became one of my favorite TV characters of 2011. Irons is brilliant, like always, at playing an old man who always seems much more intimidating than he should be.
What I found most interesting about the show is the depth of Rodrigo Borgia as a character. It's easy to write him off as a one-note power-hungry alpha male. While all that may be true, he actually is a God fearing man. One would think after the first few episodes that he's just fanatical about gaining more and more power, but as the season progresses we realize that there's more to him than obtaining rule over people. He has a conscience, although it may be a twisted one. What really is scary about him is that with all the lying, murdering and blackmailing he does to keep his papacy alive he honestly think it's God's doing when it comes out in his favor.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'The Borgias' comes in a three-disc set with 50GB Blu-ray Discs. They come packaged in a standard Blu-ray keepcase. The set is stated to be a Region A release.
The immaculate art direction shines in this 1080p presentation of the show. 'The Borgias' is filmed digitally, but like 'Shameless' you wouldn't be able to tell. There is never a time that the show takes on a flat, depthless feel. All shadows and blacks are superbly presented, giving off a very lifelike feel.
Fine detail is extremely important here, as the set and costume creation for the series is out of this world. Much like 'Rome,' 'The Borgias' relies heavily on the world surrounding the characters. From the ornate robes and clothing worn by the pope and his cardinals, to the intricate patterns on the many tapestries lining the walls of the palaces, the detail here is tremendous. Color is deep and satisfying. The crimson red cloaks of the cardinals have a beautifully regal look. Gold and white gleam as they are the primary colors or many costumes and interior designs. Facial detail is top-notch too. Each weathered age-line on Irons' face comes through with pristine clarity.
I never noticed an ounce of noise, aliasing, banding or any other annoying artifact that might distract one's viewing experience. No, 'The Borgias' is about as good as a television show can look. Kudos to Paramount for releasing such a immaculate looking Blu-ray.
Vatican City is alive with all sort of ambient sound with this 5.1 lossless Dolby TrueHD audio track. Streets, courtyards and parties all feature a wide variety of well-bodied sound that truly adds to the viewing experience.
My favorite part of this audio track is the way that echoes are treated. Characters are constantly walking down long stone corridors talking to one another. Subtle echoes can be heard in the rears but they never distract from the dialogue coming from the front and center channels. Instead the rear echo makes it seem like you're standing in that hallway eavesdropping on the conversation.
While the show is dialogue-driven – which is presented with the utmost clarity – you may be surprised to know that the show has its fair share of heavy low-end moments which will rattle the pictures on your wall. Whether it be the heavy drumming of hoof beats or the loud booming thud of a cannon firing, there is plenty of work for your sub-woofer. It won't be lying dormant, that's for sure.
I was really impressed with the audio presentation here. While it may not reach the higher echelons of demo-quality material, it's very close. I can say, for sure, that it's miles ahead of the weak sound that was provided over the original broadcast of the show.
Paramount, while they release some good looking Blu-rays for a select number of Showtime shows, they need a lot of help in the special features department. There's hardly any need discussing this further, because this is yet another Showtime Blu-ray release that features a few short BD-Live only features that weren't available at the time this review was written. Besides that all that is on the discs are a few episodes for other Showtime shows like 'Californication' and 'Dexter.' These feature packages Paramount provides for their Showtime shows have been a joke for years, and apparently they show no signs of stopping.
What's even more frustrating is that a show like 'The Borgias' has such potential to have a great supplemental package. I mean the art and set direction alone could take up oodles of time, which would be very interesting to hear how everything was created. Alas, they missed the boat completely here.
'The Borgias' was one of my favorite new shows of 2011. It filled the vacancy I had in my TV watching schedule for a grandiose, dramatic period piece after 'Rome' was gone. Plus, you can hardly go wrong with Jeremy Irons, and he's just as deliciously unsettling here as he's ever been. For anyone who enjoyed 'Rome' then this is a show you should check out. This set is recommended, but Paramount really needs to work on providing show-specific special features instead of just advertising other shows.