It's rare that an entertainment program can cause genuine real-world angst just by being on the air, but Showtime's The Borgias did just that earlier this month. An Italian TV network was criticized for airing the show about a corrupt 15th-century pope while the papal conclave called in the wake of the unexpected resignation of Pope Benedict XVI was taking place at the Vatican.
A Catholic viewers' advocacy group expressed concern about the timing, but the network had already scheduled the show and it pulled in strong ratings. That has been a consistent story for the salacious Italian Renaissance-era drama starring Jeremy Irons as Rodrigo Borgias, who bribes his way to the papacy (Pope Alexander VI) and uses everything from murder to marriage to hold onto and increase his family's political fortunes. It's easy to see why they are billed as "The Original Crime Family."
The Borgias, which was created by filmmaker Neil Jordan (The Crying Game), returns for its third season on Showtime April 14 at 10 p.m. Enemies within and without scheme to further loosen Alexander's tenuous grip on power, even as an assassination attempt has left his life hanging in the balance. To catch up on the intrigues that created the present situation, The Borgias: The Second Season (2012, Showtime, not rated, $55; Blu-ray, $66) is just out on home video.
These are trying times for the pope, who schemes vengeance upon those that oppose him and dreams of restoring Rome to its former splendor. Between managing the consequences of his own lecherous behavior and tamping down discontent among the cardinals, the manipulative pope's challenges are many. The biggest headache is reigning in his tempestuous children. He struggles to quash the dangerously festering sibling rivalry between his sons - Cesare (Francois Arnaud) and Juan (David Oakes) - while contemplating the most advantageous suitor for his scandalous daughter Lucrezia (Holliday Grainger).
Meanwhile, the army of France's King Charles VIII (Michel Muller) stands ready to attack Rome, and longtime enemy Cardinal Guiliano della Rovere (Colm Feore) returns and seeks to enlist several noble houses in plotting to bring about the pope's demise. The webs of deceit ensnare his children, and each of them have crises of their own with which to deal. Going into the new season, the pope is left wondering if there is anyone left whom he can trust.
The three-disc DVD and Blu-ray sets come with a "World of Borgias" featurette, which offers perspective on the time period when the pope was far more than the leader of the church. It offers an overview of the social customs regarding religion, sex, marriage and warfare that governed everyday life. There are also behind-the-scenes interviews and thumbnail biographies of the cast members.