Only just now catching up with two highly-promoted new series. Both of them do a good job of representing their respective channels … Game of Thrones is a complex character drama with action set in a detailed fantasy world that is nonetheless quite believable, The Borgias is history in the Cecil B. DeMille tradition of fucking, violence, and more fucking.
The Borgias is the new Tudors, which hopefully means it will be compulsively watchable in a trashy sort of way. Jeremy Irons plays Pope Alexander VI as if he were channeling Boris Karloff, Derek Jacobi gets killed off far too early, and lots of young ladies turn up in various states of nakedness. There will be intrigue, and fucking, politics, and fucking, religion, and fucking … well, you get the idea.
Game of Thrones, on the other hand, overflows with ambition. As others have noted, the series must accommodate two types of audiences, one comprised of people that love the books, and one comprised of people that had never heard of the books until the series commenced. I’m in the latter category, which means I expect to be confused about who did what to whom. But the first episode did a fine job of getting newbies started (I have no idea how it played to those already familiar with the story, although the reviews are generally positive at worst). This is not my genre … I don’t know if I’ve ever read a fantasy novel, not even Tolkien (but that didn’t stop me from loving Peter Jackson’s take on those books). But HBO has a track record of making superb genre studies: The Wire, The Sopranos, Deadwood, Rome, Treme, Sex and the City, Oz. They get the benefit of the doubt at the start. I found the premiere intriguing, and I look forward to future episodes. It has the potential to be one of the top series of its time. Having said that, at the moment, I’d probably only call it the second-best TV series on Sunday nights, after The Killing.