The sheer weight of publicity almost stopped the Earth from spinning when Mad Men returned to our screens a couple of months back, yet despite achieving almost four times as many viewers during Sky Atlantic’s inaugural year, series two of The Borgias will debut this week to minimal fanfare.
Maybe it’s got something to do with the fact that Neil Jordan’s historical series didn’t come from the much-vaunted HBO stable, but Sky seem to have put the show on the back burner.
As such, while Don Draper and The Starks have arrived in Britain just hours after they aired in the States, The Borgias kicks-off over three months after it first saw the light of day on Showtime in the States. It’s a strange decision, because the drama in which Jeremy Irons plays power-hungry religious tyrant Pope Borgia, is great fun, yet Sky Atlantic have dragged their heels in bringing it across the Atlantic. Go figure..
Anyway, the first series ended on victorius note for the Medieval Mafia with the hunchback King of France being talked out of laying siege to Rome and instead taking a trip down to sunny (not so sunny) Naples; where attractions included the stunning Castello Nuovo and also a considerable amount of death and despair in the form of the Plague.
The family also managed to further enrage their main clan-enemies the Sforzas and to his embarrassment, Lucrezia’s husband was forced to admit to the world that he was unable to *ahem* fulfill his husbandly duties.
So after managing to trick and deceive half of Europe what does the seconnd series have in store for the papacy? Jeremy Irons still stalks the Vatican sizing up his cardinals like a tiger among lambs, as power corrupts him even more with every step. Meanwhile, it’s safe to say that the King of France will not being staying in sunny Naples for much longer. When he leaves he’ll probably bring his cannon with him for round two. With war against the French, the Sforzas and whoever else the Borgia’s manage to piss-off, the second season builds on the success of the first with verve.
The premiere may not have the pomp and ceremony of the first season’s opener, but that’s because it doesn’t have an entire arena to sketch. As such, tonight’s return dives straight in, opening up a number of new storylines that will add more flesh to the existing issues – and there are plenty – within the family. Sky may be using Jeremy Irons as the big name to hang the series around, yet Francois Arnoud – who plays his ambitious son Cesare – is fast becoming the face of the show, even if his relationship with Lucrezia is like watching a car crash in super slow-motion. The antipathy between him and his brother is also smouldering away nicely.
One of the most intriguing characters from the first season was the ruthlessly-violent assassin Michelotto, played by up and coming Brit Sean Harris, who bagged a role in Ridley Scott’s sci-fi redux Prometheus this summer. Like a guard dog let off his leash, his knack of dispatching enemies for the Borgias while also having the longest and most unsettling TV stare since Richie from the Sopranos, was a constant highlight of series one.
The show’s other main is the political scheming and plotting between the various Italian states, such as Florence and Milan. As the different clans and personalities vie for power, we’re reminded of another Sky Atlantic big beast. At times, Medieval Europe and Game of Thrones are perilously similar.
Yet The Borgia’s is it’s own particularly unique brand of monster and it’s nice to see the Catholic church depicted more realistically than it has been in the past. Only a fool would assume that corruption and deception have disappeared since Medieval times, yet this was undoubtedly the high-water mark of such excess and avarice. The reformation and renaissance could not end such things but they curbed it significantly. As such, The Borgias remains a study of absolute power during a unique window in mankind’s history. Plus it’s the only show on television that offers the sight of Trigger from Only Fools and Horses wandering around in a monk’s habit.