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TV QuickShots #3

TV QuickShots

The Borgias (Bravo!/Showtime; 2011-Present)

Your hair smells like jellybeans!

This sumptuous and intrigue-laced historical fiction series from writers Neil Jordan (The Crying Game) and Michael Hirst (the Elizabeth movies) is dizzying from a production point of view. Conceived and largely written by an Irishman and an Englishman, it’s a Canadian production shot in Hungary, starring Canadians and Brits and even a Dutchwoman as an ambitious family of Spanish origins scheming for power in turn-of-the-16th-century Italy. It’s largely turned out that this is the most complex element of the show, however. I gave up on it a few episodes ago as its tiresome formula became clear: fiendish plots are hatched, described in great detail, and then dutifully carried out, with a tiny bit of moral doubt thrown in, as an afterthought. One is reminded of the BBC/CBC mainstay The Tudors, though The Borgias has a slightly better cast and comes off as a little less stilted. Since the narrative calls its own shots before it makes them, the occasional joys of the mostly-ham-handed acting was the main draw, and even that didn’t keep me coming back for too long. Quebecois beefcake Francois Arnaud does most of the work as Cesare Borgia, straining to make his own disastrous schemes instead of just faithfully carrying out the Machiavellian (literally, as the namesake turns up as an acquaintance of Cesare’s) plans of his pontiff father (Jeremy Irons, who always seems to either be putting on or taking off his papal vestments as he talks). There is some interesting stuff with the infamous Lucrezia (played by the luminously pale Holliday Grainger), who we’re made to believe is driven to her legendary underhandedness by the inequality of contemporary gender relations. And I’ve heard Michel Muller’s King Charles VIII of France has become a reliable scene-stealer since I stopped watching. I may have to revisit it and finish the season at some point, but I guess we’ll see about that.

Criminal Minds (CBS; 2005-present)

A now-out-of-date cast photo

I’ve previously expressed the terms of my enjoyment of this laughably formulaic crime-and-punishment “drama”, but the frantic developments of the past season deserve a few words, I suppose. First, for fairly dubious (and production budget-related) reasons, JJ (A.J. Cook) was shuffled off the regular cast, taking her skin-tight business suits and passive-aggressive manner with local law enforcement to the Defense Department. She re-appeared briefly in the midst of the silly spy-movie exit arc for Emily Prentiss (the reliably blank Paget “Punky” Brewster), then popped in at season’s end, hanging from a proverbial cliff and promising Agent Rossi (Joe Mantegna, but why him?) to come back to the B.A.U. for more serial-killer-catching hijinks. Her reasons? Who cares? JJ’s back! And with her, hopefully, will come the gradual marginalization of Rachel Nichols’ formless Agent New Blonde (okay, her name is Seaver or something, I guess).  And while we’re on the subject, what about the gutless goofiness of Prentiss’ fake death, huh? Would it kill the writers to, well, kill a major character when they leave the show forever? Couldn’t do it with the enigmatic Jason Gideon (the enigmatic Mandy Patinkin), couldn’t do it with Elle (Lola Glaudini), and now they couldn’t do it with Prentiss, whom nobody on either side of the screen seemed terribly attached to. More than anything, the cast confusion and plot convolutions (which only take up a small fraction of the weekly runtime anyway) after a half-decade of competent consistency in the delivery of formula entertainment imply that not all is well inside one of TV’s most successful shows. The fall-down failure of its now-cancelled spin-off, the purely unwatchable Suspect Behavior, bodes ill for the franchise ambitions of Criminal Minds, but the fits and starts of the flagship cast further doubt on its ongoing viability as well.

Categories: Reviews, Television
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