Bring back “Our Dad’s the Pope!”… the greatest sitcom that not quite ever was…
This was not a sitcom. It was terminated before it had a chance to be? Is it too late to bring it back, in the form it was always meant to be?
Our latest satellite upgrade gave us access to a bunch of box sets, and so the pair of us thought we’d catch up with a lavish costume drama that was cancelled three or four years ago. The creation of Neil Jordan (no less), The Borgias throws everything at the wall and probably less than half of it sticks. But secreted within this hubristic saga is, I believe, comedy gold.
Renaissance historians watching The Borgias can be found crouching in the corner with their jackets over their heads emitting low moans. Fact-checking The Borgias is almost as onerous and impossible as fact-checking Sean Spicer or Kellyanne Conway. Almost. From any sort of a historical point of view, in this drama the wrong people are always in the wrong place doing the wrong thing at the wrong time to the wrong other people.
The Borgias offers a series of overblown interlocking narratives that aren’t really compelling enough to justify the gargantuan costume budget. It’s the sort of show that doesn’t know which characters it wants us to love, to hate, or to love hating. But it’s also, thanks to Jeremy Irons, intermittently hilarious. And I say, it’s not too late to make Iron’s portrayal of Pope Alexander VI, the centrepiece of a radical re-imagining of the project.
So farewell The Borgias and hello to Our Dad’s the Pope! Remember when Blackadder was refashioned after what was deemed an unsuccessful first series? How the outdoor filmed sequences were eliminated, Ben Elton was brought in, and the core dynamics of the show were tightened? Is it too late to remake Our Dad’s the Pope! along the same lines? Cut the fifty episodes to just 23 minute sitcom length stories, and focus on the family itself.
The core cast should be pared back to just the essential three – Roderigo, Cesare and Lucrezia. Other family members just can be vaguely referred to. I’m thinking that “Where’s Juan?” could become the family catchphrase. You have the dad, a long-suffering irascible old Vicar of Christ, who after a hard 9-5 day’s work vicarofchristing just wants to kick back, have a cigar and enjoy some uncomplicated sex with a sequence of anonymous and discreet women. His apparently simple needs are forever being frustrated by his kids. Cesare is the feckless youngster who lives in the basement, changes his career plans on a weekly basis and who is, ultimately, far too like his father for comfort – their constant intergenerational bickering revealing a profound intimacy and affinity. Ahhh. Lucrezia is studying for her PhD in toxicology, reveling in all this “New Learning” and struggling to drag her reactionary Dad into the sixteenth-century.
So Our Dad’s the Pope! is not just a sitcom – it’s every sitcom. It’s a sitcom to the n’th degree. Sitcoms affirm traditional family values, but usually taking a non traditional family as their model. The dysfunctional-functional family embraces The Addams Family, All in the Family (though not Till Death Us Do Part), Married with Children, The Simpsons and Malcolm in the Middle. Jeremy Irons could join a rich televisual sequence of inefficient patriarchs. He assuredly has the sense of fun required for this task. Let’s not forget that he began his career as a children’s TV presenter working alongside Brian Cant. As Pope Alexander VI, Irons perfected a peculiar sort of growl, that reminds me somewhat of the noise made by Donald Sinden being interviewed about a threatened historic theatre closure. Pope Alex blusters, he growls, and then he softens and he hugs. Irons is already the perfect sitcom dad. The rest of the cast just needs to catch up.
The dysfunctional-functional family sitcom works best when family values win out against the most dysfunctional premise imaginable. What better premise then, than a “family” that isn’t supposed to exist in the first place? And what better smug, bourgeois, nuclear familial morality than the notion that despite all the treachery, blasphemy, infidelity, obscenity, fratricide (“Hey – where’s Juan?”), mass murder and incest exhibited by the Borgia story – at the end of the day – they’re FAMILY – and that’s all that really matters. I mean – isn’t it?
The theme tune will be crucial. It could be a Jeremy Irons solo song along the lines of “You can call me Rod. Or you can call me Alex. Just be sure and call me Your Holiness” etc. etc. Or you could have the theme tune sung as a duet between Lucrezia and Cesare – perhaps as a Fresh Prince of Bel Air context-narrative song about how their lives kinda got turned upside down. “We’re always in trouble – but it’s not so bad – when – the – Pope’s – your DAD!”
But this is just an initial pitch. I don’t have to decide on the theme tune lyrics now do I? I mean, do I really have to do everything?