Monday, April 4, 2011

Pilot Review: The Borgias

The Borgias (SHO)
Premiered April 3 at 9pm

Here we have the second costume-heavy period drama making its two-hour pay cable premiere this weekend. Fortunately, it’s quite a bit better than Starz’s poor “Camelot,” though it still doesn’t quite have the appeal of an HBO epic. Like Showtime’s recently concluded “The Tudors,” this show boasts impressive set pieces and strong actors in its ensemble, yet it feels incredibly dense and rather impenetrable on a weekly basis. That’s not necessarily a criticism, though it does influence who will end up watching and enjoying the show. In terms of positive content, it’s simply fantastic to see Jeremy Irons inhabiting a role that truly suits him and is up to the caliber of his skills. He chews scenery every time he speaks, and it’s refreshing to see that the ensemble around him hasn’t been lazily constructed so as to position him as the cast’s sole standout performer. Simon McBurney as the lawyer and counsel is one particularly memorable player in the ensemble whose performance is impressive. There’s a good amount of story happening around the new Pope that doesn’t involve him directly, and the subplots don’t seem like filler, which is a good thing. There’s plenty of dramatic conflict to be explored, and I especially liked the turncoat assassin in the premiere. After Cesare’s success at securing his allegiance, it’s shown almost immediately that there’s no time to waste and no good fortune to be had as Micheletto is quickly captured. His new role as double agent for Cesare should prove to be an engaging and intriguing one, and that may well be the show’s most compelling element. The plot to depose the newly crowned Pope also serves as an interesting introductory storyline, and there’s sure to be more treachery and deceit to come in the future. The show is well-written if somewhat predictable, and while it’s not must-see television, it’s a cut above the rest when it comes to expensive epic dramas.

How will it work as a series? There’s a good deal of history to be explored and covered, and plenty of non-historical drama to be added in, so storyline should never be a problem. This mega-pilot was considerably heavier than an hour-long episode likely will be, and therefore this show should resemble many of the pay cable period shows that have come before it, often seeming more like a movie than just a television show.
How long will it last? Showtime kept “The Tudors” going for four years, and given that it’s a comparable drama on the same network, I think its fate will be similar. HBO shows like “Rome” have fallen prey to gigantic budgets and suffered an untimely demise, so this one might not have years of life in it, but I think several seasons are probable, beginning with a renewal sometime very soon.

Pilot grade: B-

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