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Let he who is without his own TV show cast the first review: Showtime’s “The Borgias”

Like The Tudors before it, the newest Showtime series tackles history by making it very sexy looking and filled with murderous plots. While I don’t remember this particular Pope from my CCD days, I’m quite sure that my ears would have perked up if I had heard about a Vatican filled with backstabbing, bribery and scores of illegitimate children. It’s probably not a story you want to tell 12-year-olds, but definitely a solid basis for a cable TV series.

The Borgias centers on Rodrigo Borgia (Jeremy Irons), a wealthy cardinal from Spain who has a lovely mistress and four children. But when the existing pope dies, he makes a serious power play to take over the papacy, including bribing people with coveted positions and doling out titles hidden inside of pork products. He does so with the help of his eldest son Cesare (Francois Arnaud), who handles all of the dirty work of making sure that people toe the line. It’s not a pretty job, and it involves Cesare being a cleric pledged to God, though he’d far rather just have sex all the time and get the more military-based job that his younger, less-competent brother Juan (David Oakes) landed.

Borgia is elected as Pope Alexander VI, but there are plenty of dissenters, particularly Cardinal Della Rovere (Colm Feore), who wanted the position, and also objects to the disgusting abuse of power that he sees coming from the Borgias. And he’s pissed that the Pope isn’t Italian. But the new pope isn’t just worried about being overthrown; he’s also got to contend with people trying to kill him. Thankfully, his son Cesare seems to put the kibosh on most of these plots as he’s not afraid to do some killing in the name of God, and he enlists the help of known assassin Micheletto (Sean Harris) to carry out all these treacherous acts.