• 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: Matthew Gilbert
    Mar 31, 2011
    50
    You will absolutely, one hundred percent love every second of Showtime's new series, The Borgias. If you are a set designer, that is. Or a costumer. Otherwise, you might be mildly entertained and yet still feel a gnawing hunger for something more--a flavor shot or two with your creme de la creme.
  2. Reviewed by: Mark A. Perigard
    Apr 1, 2011
    58
    Unfortunately, Iron's not in every scene, and the 100-minute premiere, after a promising opening, becomes bogged down in political intrigue as his rivals scheme to remove the new pope.
  3. Reviewed by: Paige Wiser
    Mar 31, 2011
    88
    Showtime has tantalized me for ages with glimpses of Jeremy Irons growling and groping his way through a role as history's most debauched pope. It finally arrives Sunday, and you won't be disappointed.
  4. Reviewed by: Missy Schwartz
    Mar 28, 2011
    75
    The storytelling can feel sluggish at times, but as the ruthless, morally bankrupt pope (dude has two mistresses and four kids!), Irons is at his creepy, dead-eyed-stare best.
  5. Reviewed by: Alan Sepinwall
    Mar 31, 2011
    40
    It's a very straightforward, sincere, dull accounting of all the trouble caused by Rodrigo, son Cesare (Francois Arnaud, frequently nude), daughter Lucrezia (Holliday Grainger) and company cause with their newfound power and station.
  6. Reviewed by: Robert Lloyd
    Apr 4, 2011
    70
    It doesn't matter, finally, what becomes of them, we watch less in suspense than in wonder: wonder at the cheek and gall of these characters; wondering how true any of it is; and wondering, most profitably, at the performances, the least of which are good and the best of which are good fun.
  7. Reviewed by: Glenn Garvin
    Apr 7, 2011
    80
    Murder and sexual predation sure look fun when they're done by pretty people in luscious gowns. Jeremy Irons is splendidly depraved as Rodrigo, and Holliday Grainger (Robin Hood) so sunnily sweet as Lucrezia that it's damn near impossible to hold a little arsenic against her.
  8. Reviewed by: David Hinckley
    Mar 30, 2011
    80
    What makes for a mixed stewardship of the Roman Catholic Church can also make for lively television.
  9. Reviewed by: Linda Stasi
    Mar 31, 2011
    88
    If you can get past the many face of Jeremy Irons as Rodrigo Borgia/Pope Alexander VI, in Showtime's lush and luscious historical series The Borgias, you're in for a full-out good time.
  10. Reviewed by: Ellen Gray
    Mar 30, 2011
    80
    Writer-director Neil Jordan's first foray into series TV is everything you'd want in a premium-cable costume drama: lush, romantic, violent, tragic, funny--and far enough in the past that few of us are likely to argue.
  11. Reviewed by: Jonathan Storm
    Apr 4, 2011
    70
    It might have benefited from the subtler writing touch of Anderson, who was a prolific writer for stage (Anne of the Thousand Days, for instance) and screen, specializing in long-ago history, but it's still good fun on a big level.
  12. Reviewed by: Rob Owen
    Apr 1, 2011
    60
    The Borgias is an adequate soap but one that's also rife with missed opportunities.
  13. Reviewed by: Matt Zoller Seitz
    Apr 4, 2011
    80
    I expected it to be yet another R-rated historical soap with an overqualified cast. It's that. (The series is co-executive produced by ... wait a second ... Michael Hirst? Not him again!) But it's also good. And addictive--not just because of the blood-and-boobs aspects, but because it takes you inside an unfamiliar world and shows you how it works.
  14. Reviewed by: David Wiegand
    Apr 1, 2011
    75
    The Borgias, created by filmmaker Neil Jordan ("The Crying Game"), is the better of the two [The other is "Camelot"], thanks largely to Irons, a strong supporting cast and sophisticated production values.
  15. Reviewed by: Phillip Maciak
    Apr 4, 2011
    50
    The Borgias is merely the network's most recent, shallow exploration into precisely how murderous, horny, and fabulously costumed the wealthy were at the turn of the 16th century.
  16. Reviewed by: Tim Goodman
    Mar 30, 2011
    70
    The fact is, these kinds of grand historical reimaginings can be a scrumptious combination of costume drama acting, soap opera theatrics and pay cable promiscuousness. That'll make the hours fly by. And it doesn't mean your pleasure needs to be all that guilty.
  17. Reviewed by: Maureen Ryan
    Mar 31, 2011
    70
    By casting Feore, Arnaud, Harris and the magnetic Irons in this Gothic soap opera about randy popes and their enemies, and by taking the world of 15th Century Rome moderately seriously, Jordan ensured that this drama would be more than just a mildly cheesy guilty pleasure. It's not much more than that, mind you, but you won't have to go to confession after you've partaken of this Showtime costume drama.
  18. Reviewed by: Alessandra Stanley
    Mar 31, 2011
    70
    This glossy, gossipy look at the Renaissance in the time of Machiavelli isn't a history lesson, it's a lurid family drama that happened to change the course of history.
  19. Reviewed by: James Poniewozik
    Apr 1, 2011
    50
    With writing and directing by Neil Jordan and Irons in the lead, it has pedigree and promise. And yet The Borgias, besides the glaring Tudors parallels, is one of those shows that seems like it might actually be better if it were worse.
  20. Reviewed by: Matt Roush
    Apr 1, 2011
    70
    Like the notorious family that bribed its way into the Vatican's papal chamber while sullying many a Roman bedchamber, we want our money's worth. And The Borgias wickedly delivers, serving up an operatic feast of delicious malice and unbridled lust: for power and wealth, for carnal pleasure and vulgar theatrics.
  21. Reviewed by: Ed Bark
    Apr 4, 2011
    75
    Despite all the aforementioned intrigues, The Borgias so far isn't quite as bawdy, foul-minded or over the top as its predecessor. It moves more deliberately, sometimes a bit ploddingly.
  22. Reviewed by: Robert Bianco
    Mar 31, 2011
    88
    If it plays a bit fast and loose with facts, it's nowhere near as outrageous as its Showtime cousin The Tudors, whose ever-young, ever-fit Henry VIII was an affront to history and to common sense. Irons may not look anything like the real Pope Alexander, but he makes you believe in him - and for The Borgias' purposes, that's what matters.
  23. Reviewed by: Brian Lowry
    Apr 4, 2011
    50
    That restraint, if that's the right word for it, leaves the program feeling muddled, spending too much time with the younger Borgias--who only live up to the "bore" part--and the labyrinthine workings of Vatican politics.
  24. 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.
  25. Reviewed by: Hank Stuever
    Apr 4, 2011
    40
    In the first four episodes, there isn't anyone or anything to root for, other than history's corrective hand.
User Score
8.3

Universal acclaim- based on 98 Ratings

User score distribution:
  1. Positive: 12 out of 13
  2. Negative: 0 out of 13
  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 »