Showtime hit a jackpot with their series The Tudors, which chronicled the sex, violence, and intrigue of the reign of Henry VIII with plenty of gorgeous historical art direction, but less historical accuracy. When the show reached its natural conclusion with the death of King Henry, they attempted to replicate that formula for success with The Borgias, starring Jeremy Irons as the wily religious leader Rodrigo Borgia and a selection of various other classy European actors (though, not so classy that they don’t mind getting naked for the camera) portraying a clan so lascivious that they make the Tudors look like innocent children.
However, Borgia: Faith and Fear is not that show. This program is a European production with a mostly unknown cast, save John Doman, formerly of HBO’s The Wire, in the leading role of Rodrigo. His stark American accent and blunt way of speaking is absurdly out of place in Rome circa 1492, and he lacks the magnetic quality of Irons that makes the rather despicable character of Rodrigo somehow likeable enough to watch. That casting is only one of many problems with this series, which is the even trashier cousin of those previously mentioned Showtime soap operas. The title sums it up in a nutshell: rather than let the viewer wait and see what drama will unfold, the title screams, “We have religious figures doing naughty things!” The nudity and torture are ratcheted up tenfold, yet that isn’t enough to keep even the most drama-starved viewer engaged for long. Rodrigo is a powerful Spanish cardinal in Rome who plots to be the next pope as Innocent lies on his deathbed; he is also bedding a woman young enough to be his granddaughter, the married Giulia (Marta Castini the most likeable member of the cast, with more charisma than all of the rest put together), who has her own schemes in the works. The younger generation of Borgias—the scheming brothers Juan and Cesare, and their petulant sister Lucrezia—are all impossibly annoying. I blame the actors for the most part; I blame the pedantic, far-too-obvious teleplays for the rest. The opening narration alone, with its insistence on spelling out everything for the viewer as though they aren’t bright or informed enough to pick up on the story themselves, is enough to put off the audience.
“Borgia: Faith and Fear” did not air in the United States, except on Netflix. There is a reason for this: if you want a healthy dose of historical drama mixed with sex and violence, it’s more worthwhile to just pick up the Showtime version.
DVD SPECIAL FEATURES
The three-disc set contains one bonus featurette: “The Making of ‘Borgia: Faith and Fear.’”
"Borgia: Faith and Fear, Season One" is on sale February 21, 2012 and is not rated. Drama, Television. Directed by Metin Huseyin, Oliver Hirschbiegel, Dearbhla Walsh, Christoph Schrewe. Written by Tom Fontana. Starring John Doman, Marta Gastini, Isolda Dychauk.