• Network: Showtime
  • Series Premiere Date: Apr 3, 2011
  • Season #: 1 , 2 , 3
Metascore
66

Generally favorable reviews - based on 25 Critics

Critic score distribution:
  1. Positive: 16 out of 25
  2. Negative: 1 out of 25
  1. Reviewed by: Nancy DeWolf Smith
    Apr 8, 2011
    30
    Some shading aside, some occasional twinges of remorse, nothing can hide the fact that these people have no souls to lose, no character to develop. Apart from looking for "Godfather" homage moments, there isn't more to root for here than there is at a cage fight.
User Score
8.2

Universal acclaim- based on 104 Ratings

User score distribution:
  1. Positive: 14 out of 15
  2. Negative: 0 out of 15
  1. Apr 4, 2011
    10
    I'll admit I was predisposed to like "The Borgias" by the subject matter, by the network, by the involvement of Neil Jordan, and by the casting of Jeremy Irons as Rodrigo Borgia. And I do like it, very much. As usual with historical series, the show edits the facts quite a bit, but some of the editing is doubtless in the interest of fairness, given the blackening of the Borgia name after the family's downfall. Cesare, promoted to elder brother in the series, is a more conflicted, self-aware thug than his historical counterpart, and, played with intelligence and charm by François Arnaud, serves as a strong foil to his menacing father. And no one does menace like Jeremy Irons. Even when he's not saying a word, just staring into space, his face advertises his cruelty and depraved ambition. Then he speaks, complicating the portrait with a dark charisma that lures and repels simultaneously. From top to bottom, the casting is unusually good, as should be evident from the participation of heavyweights Colm Feore and Derek Jacobi, who play rival cardinals. Also first-rate is the overall look of the show, which is sumptuous in the extreme. One critic complained that Rodrigo's reason for seeking the papacy was obscure, but, for me, it was obvious in the buildings, the clothes, the ornaments, the art, all of which proclaim the massive wealth and power of the church in Rome. "The Borgias" is splendid, in at least two senses of the word. Full Review »
  2. Apr 22, 2011
    10
    The Borgias is a show that, by it's placement on a subscriber network like Showtime, and it's focus on intirgue and sex and death, must be compared to the Tudors. I am safe to report 4 episodes into the first season (which, unless there are mighty changes a-coming, has seemed to have shown the gambit of what this first season intends to bring us in manner of light/dark tones and general plot delivery), The Borgias have already far outpaced even the best moments of The Tudors.

    I believe this is in part due to the fact that simply put, Jeremy Irons from his first moment on screen as the soon-to-be-pope Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia so totally fills the role that he looks appropriate, if perhaps a bit lean for a papal figure of the time. However, his delivery, carriage, and mannerisms all are so enveloping as to erase any doubt by the midpoint of the opening episode. While this show does take historical liberties like the Tudors, it does not go nearly as far and they are mostly to add to the show, not to simply make it more marketable. So for those who are more intimately familiar with the zeitgeist of Machiavellian Italy and Cesare Borgia in particular might at first be a bit startled by his apparent complexity and depth. This becomes obvious from the get-go as Cesare is cast (not only in an eldest brother role, one that he was not in real life) as the double-edged foil to his somewhat immature (both too cruel and yet not cruel enough) brother and his menacing (and oh how he menaces) and scheming father.

    What I find so enthralling is that this show, after 4 episodes, has not given any sort of Singular Answer to the question of why, when by the end of the first episode Rodrigo Borgia is made Pope Alexander VI, the most powerful man in the Christian world, that is only the very tip of the iceberg. Sure, there is simple greed and ambition, but by a few episodes in you begin to realize that Pope Alexander VI is simply a man who cannot be defined like some sort of Gargamel, constantly searching for one singular end. Rather he clearly has many motivations, not all of which are even clear to his own family or even possibly, himself.

    So far, the historical cameos have been magnificent. The Medici's main scene so far (hopefully they will be returning, central historical figures that they are) was wonderful, to mention one. The architecture is also given a historical amount of detail for the most recognizable vistas that is an aesthetic pleasure (for those of you who have played Assassin's Creed II, this will seem like the live version of the stages) and also serves to ground the series, making you not want to look to the corner of every moving shot to see if you can see daylight behind the sets.

    Luckily for the series, the 11 year papal reign of Alexander VI has no shortage of drama to draw upon, and since it began in the auspicious year of 1492, glib historical references can (and I am sure, given the first 4 episodes, will continue to be) be peppered in regularly for bit sized chunks of humor and levity, which this show is able to provide at times.

    Overall this series seems to have done (and left itself enough room to continue to be able to do for many seasons to come) the best job of a historical drama from definitively pre-industrial times. Yes, it is clearly a cheerier, less hairy, more attractive version of the past, with mild edits to keep the plot aerodynamic, but it is still stunning none-the-less, and deserves the highest of praise.
    Full Review »
  3. Feb 27, 2014
    10
    I was a bit undecided about following this series as I thought it was going to be disappointing compared to The Tudors. It turned out much better for several reasons, among which the fact that the cast is much larger and the story does not focus mainly on one character (such as Henry VIII). Besides, the story of this family is a lot less known, so it is intriguing to discover a fictional version of historical facts. Jeremy Irons as Rodrigo Borgia is intriguing and decadent enough. His two sons, Cesare and Juan, are played by excellent actors; the women (ex-lover Vannozza, new lover Giulia, daughter Lucrezia) are all interesting characters. Even Michelozzo, the “bad boy” assassin serving Cesare is intriguing. A special mention to the gorgeous costumes, much nicer than anything seen in the Tudors. Full Review »