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2 new blasts from past from Showtime, Starz

‘CAMELOT’ ★★★

9 to 10:45 tonight, then 9 to 10 p.m. Fridays on Starz

‘THE BORGIAS’ ★★★½

8 to 10 p.m. this Sunday, then 9 to 10 p.m. Sundays on Showtime

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM



Have you appreciated your cable channels today? In our never-ending pursuit of quality entertainment we can enjoy while just lying there, cable gives and it gives. It has us reminiscing about “Boardwalk Empire,” panting for more “Mad Men” and scheduling our vacation time around HBO’s upcoming epic “Game of Thrones.”

Cable gives us something to live for.

For me, it’s “The Borgias.” Showtime has tantalized me for ages with glimpses of Jeremy Irons growling and groping his way through a role as history’s most debauched pope. It finally arrives Sunday, and you won’t be disappointed.

The Borgia family, which came to power during the Renaissance, makes “The Sopranos” look like crybabies. Among the Borgias’ crimes: bribery, theft, murder, adultery, rape, incest and the buying and selling of ecclesiastical offices as if they were Illinois’ Senate seats. The first episode even works in a pet monkey for comic relief.

Irons’ Rodrigo Borgia isn’t just a baddie. He’s got a perverse sense of morality that would be laughable if it didn’t make him so anguished. The priesthood didn’t stop him from fathering at least seven illegitimate kids. (“Let him without children cast the first stone,” he says drolly.)

We meet his famous daughter Lucrezia (Holliday Grainger) as an angelic-looking 14-year-old, before her three political marriages — and before her penchant for poisoning. Joanne Whalley plays Rodrigo’s longtime mistress, and Francois Arnaud is scrumptious as Cesare, a chip off the old block.

If “The Borgias” is just a bit too blasphemous for your taste, though, you can turn to Starz’s lush retelling of “Camelot.” It’s brought to you by Chris Chibnall, who built his reputation on BBC successes like “Torchwood” and the related coming-of-age series “Merlin.”

Our sorcerer puppetmaster has grown up to be played by Joseph Fiennes (“Shakespeare in Love”) with a thin layer of slime. He’s intent on molding the carefree young Arthur into his kind of king. Arthur is played by Jamie Campbell Bower (“The Prisoner”), who is heroic and pretty in equal measures.

Bond girl Eva Green — she of the crazy eyes — is phenomenal as witchy Morgan Le Fay, and her lusty alliance with King Lot (James Purefoy) should hook you immediately. Fantasy epics aren’t really my thing, but this stylish, intense series should satisfy sci-fi fans for some time.

Guilty pleasures? I suppose so, although you could comfort yourself by referring to them as “historical drama” and “political allegory.” I say, ignore the guilt — just sit back and enjoy.



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