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A scene from The Borgias (Handout | Jonathan Hession/Handout | Jonathan Hession)
A scene from The Borgias (Handout | Jonathan Hession/Handout | Jonathan Hession)

John Doyle: Weekend TV

The Borgias are back and bloodier than ever Add to ...

The Borgias returns (Sunday, Bravo! 10 p.m.) for a second season and that’s the big event of the weekend on TV.

In the “Previously on the Borgias” summary at the beginning of the show, we are reminded that Rodrigo Borgia (Jeremy Irons) did indeed become Pope, through a series of debauched and murderous machinations.

Also that there was a bit of a problem in the person of Cardinal Della Rovere (Colm Feore), who is heard roaring, “I have evidence that will bring this house crashing down around your ears!” That didn’t happen, but the Borgia papacy is still under threat.

Almost immediately in the first episode, there’s a poisoning. Soon after that we see the Pope lounging in a bath with a naked young woman who is neither his wife nor his mistress. Meanwhile, down the road in Naples, the King of France is getting ticked off and seems of a mind to take out his anger on Rome and the Borgia clan.

Thus, Rodrigo tries to rally the clan – children Cesare (François Arnaud) and Lucrezia (Holliday Grainger), wife Vanozza (Joanne Whalley) and mistress Giulia Farnese (Lotte Verbeek). But, bring that gang together and they squabble and scheme.

These new episodes move at more sprightly pace than the first season. It appears that viewers are asked to pay attention to multiple storylines simultaneously. This isn’t necessarily a good thing, though it might be what U.S. cable channel Showtime demands.

What’s happening, mostly, is revenge. Anyone who crosses the Borgias is a target. And in the midst of this, it is Lucrezia who emerges as truly strong and probably mad. There is a lot to admire about the Borgias, again, but these new episodes are not to be savoured as leisurely drama. There is a lot of violence and blood to the point of gross indulgence. Some see The Borgias as The Sopranos-on-acid, but this season seems more awash in blood than any mob drama ever was.


GCB (Sunday, ABC, 10 p.m., and CTV, 9 p.m.) is two consecutive episodes, which tells us that ABC is testing the show in the traditional Desperate Housewives timeslot. And probably pondering a move to make the show its core Sunday-night offering. It’s nifty comedy, this show, but a tad thin on gripping storylines. Oh sure, there’s been a fuss, with a right-wing outfit called the Culture and Media Institute saying that GCB attacked Christianity more than 100 times in just three episodes. However, a fuss doesn’t make a frothy drama better.

Saving the Titanic (Sunday, CBC NN, 10 p.m.) is described by CBC as “the first-ever documentary special to focus on the heroes behind the disaster: the brave engineers and shipbuilders who courageously tried to prevent the icy North Atlantic from gushing into the ship.” This may well be the case, but the dramatizations are somewhat stagy and unconvincing. What is truly interesting is that it’s the hard-working men in the belly of the Titanic who get the attention, not the passengers. Very much the downstairs part of an upstairs/downstairs story – and that’s welcome.

All times ET. Check local listings.

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