“The Borgias” debuted on Showtime Sunday and drew 1.5 million viewers combined for its first-run and encore. The series about the infamous 15th century Italian crime family comes from the same team as “The Tudors,” another historical drama which recently vacated this timeslot. The debut of “The Borgias” scored 22% higher than the 2007 premiere of “The Tudors” and was the best bow for the paycaster since “Dead Like Me” in 2003.
“The Borgias” marks the first TV series for Oscar champ Jeremy Irons (1990 Best Actor, “Reversal of Fortune”) who already has a pair of Emmys on his mantle — 2006 Supporting Movie/Mini Actor for “Elizabeth” and 1997 Voiceover for “The Great War and the Shaping of the 20th Century.” Other notables in the cast include two-time Emmy champ Sir Derek Jacobi (1989 Supporting Movie/Mini Actor for “The Tenth Man”; 2001 Guest Comedy Actor for “Frasier”) and screen beauty Joanne Whalley.
“The Borgias” earned generally good notices. In his rave review, Robert Bianco (USA Today) said, “seen from a safe distance, captured by a sterling cast led in marvelous high style by Jeremy Irons, and presented with all the brio, flair and sumptuous design TV can muster, the infamous family is almost addictively entertaining.” And Paige Wiser (Chicago Sun-Times) thought, “the Borgia family, which came to power during the Renaissance, makes ‘The Sopranos’ look like crybabies.”