Showtime brings back three returning series on April 8, each with modest strengths, but also pretty serious flaws. Pay cable -- including Showtime, with series like "Homeland" and "Dexter" -- has its A list, as well as guilty pleasures like "Californication."
These programs belong more on the C+/B- list. A trio of capsule reviews:
"The Borgias" ought to be a lot more fun than it is. Showtime made a point of promoting the 15th-century drama as "the original crime family," one seemingly made for pay cable, with sex and violence aplenty. Plus, you have Jeremy Irons as a lascivious Pope. Talk about a little something for everybody.
The ornate trappings notwithstanding, though, the show seldom pops, and the opening salvo of second-season episodes gets bogged down in both family and papal politics. Even the sex -- however lurid -- has a been-there, seen-that feel to it.
More than anything, "The Borgias" resembles "The Tudors," another period series that hung around on Showtime for a handful of seasons. It must have had its ardent admirers, but it was more a program you watched to soak in the scenery and costumes than get lost in the story and characters.
Yes, "The Borgias" is about an Italian dynasty, but ultimately, it's more "Dynasty" than "The Sopranos."
"Nurse Jackie" and "The Big C"are really two peas from the same pod, offering showy roles for female stars -- Emmy winner Edie Falco and Laura Linney, respectively -- but veering all over the place in terms of tone and storylines.
Without giving anything vital away, "Nurse Jackie" finds Falco's title character heading to rehab, where she's confronted with some hard truths about herself. Yet when a counselor rather bluntly tells her, "You're good at your job; you suck at life," it's nothing that anybody who has watched the series this far doesn't already know.
Each season brings new wrinkles to Jackie's screwed-up, pill-popping existence, and watching Falco is perhaps enough of a reward for a half-hour each week. But the show has never really gotten much past the quirky phase, which has become a rather familiar shortcoming among Showtime's longer-running half-hours.
"The Big C" started with a promising concept -- a woman with a cancer diagnosis, who begins to live differently, more freely -- but has gone in all sorts of directions, including last season's cliffhanger and the twists introduced in season two.
The problem is everything outside issues of life and death in the show feels rather pallid, and the supporting cast -- while a highly talented bunch, including Oliver Platt, John Benjamin Hickey and Gabourey Sidibe -- yields side stories that simply aren't that interesting.
At its core, the show asked: What would you do if presented with a fatal cancer diagnosis? Would you make the most out of what time you had left, and if so, how?
"The Big C" had the guts to pose the big questions, and they're truly provocative. If only the answers were as good.