The Borgias, Thursday, May 17

W, 9.30pm

To provide a "previously … on The Borgias'' would take a lot of space and time. Let's just say season one opened with Rodrigo Borgia (Jeremy Irons) ascending to the papacy, installing his de facto wife and five children in the Vatican, then protecting that position against all those he had enraged.

Jeremy Irons stars in <i>Borgias</i>
Jeremy Irons stars in Borgias 

This is the kind of rich, dark, lewd drama fans of Rome and The Tudors know and love. You can simply watch it for the sex, swords and frocks, but the political intrigues and familial tensions reward close viewing. Neil Jordan is the creator and producer and he wrote and directed this opening episode to season two. His hand is evident in the smart pacing, clever juxtaposition of scenes and dense script flashing with dry wit.

There's a fine cast, too, but Irons carries the tale in a tricky role. Pope Alexander VI was lascivious, gluttonous, despotic and brutal and Irons makes him all those things. But he's also a man with an enormous passion for life and a lively sense of humour. Tonight, after having bequeathed a plague-ridden Naples to the king of France, he sits back and waits for that monarch to die a horrible death. Meanwhile, he decides what the Holy City really needs is a bit of fun, so he organises a Roman bacchanal.

The Borgias glides effortlessly from the sensual to the luxe to the brutal without pausing for breath. If you like your dramas big, bold and sexy, this is one not to miss.