Sunday, March 17, 1991
TV Magazine
COVERRich-looking Renaissance miniseries premieres on TNT
Harry Bowman

A Season of Giants is a big production-the kind of big production most producers stopped making a few years ago when the money men began demanding an accurate accounting of their financing.

It is, in fact, so big it seemed to me that most of the first half was taken up with nothing but the list of screen credits. These seemed to go on at such great length that there was little time left for a story to begin.

Or maybe, the credits just seemed to go on so long because I couldn’t read any of them; they were in Italian.

The two-part miniseries (debuting Sunday and Monday at 7 p.m. on TNT) is a co-production of TNT and Radiotelevisione Italiana in association with Tiber Cinematografica of Rome; it was filmed entirely in Italy.

Whatever else it may be, A Season of Giants is lovely. It looks like a Florentine tapestry. Photographed in burnished hues, it sports a Renaissance look that is highly attractive.

This Renaissance look is no accident. The special takes place in Rome and Florence from 1492 to 1508 and dwells on the doings of Michelangelo, da Vinci and Raphael.

(We are not talking Ninja Turtles II here: these are the folks we read about in Art Appreciation.)

Some of the supporting characters are Pope Julius II, Lorenzo di Medici, Machiavelli and Savonarola. Not your standard cast of characters, to be sure.

The plot is supposedly based on history, but accuracy will always give way to a good plot device and I am not prepared to argue any of the finer points.

The story begins as Lorenzo di Medici, he of the poison-filled ring, is going to meet his ancestors. With his death, a period of political and religious unrest begins in the prosperous city-state. It is not a good time for the 17-year-old Michelangelo.

Stripped of his patron’s financial support, the artist is forced to develop his craft elsewhere. He goes to Bologna, where he soon gains recognition. He returns to Florence, finds the city in turmoil and decides to settle in Rome. During all this traveling, he still manages to complete The Bacchus, the first Pieta and David. Not a bad body of work for a guy who can’t settle down.

It isn’t long before Michelangelo, Leonardo and Raphael are locked in stiff competition as they go about creating one masterpiece after another.

There are enough plots, counterplots, schemes, love affairs and villains to keep things moving right along. And, of course, the Mona Lisa, the Last Supper and the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel are interesting, if none too lively.

F. Murray Abraham, who won an Oscar for Amadeus, stars as Pope Julius II, the Warrior Pope. It’s a relatively small role, but Mr. Abraham attacks it with zest. If he made it interesting, he could be forgiven his tendency to shamelessly overact.

Mark Frankel, John Glover and Andrea Prodan are Michelangelo, Leonard and Raphael respectively. They give the sort of reverential performances one would expect from actors portraying Michelangelo, Leonardo and Raphael.

A Season of Giants is not a breathless dramatic experience, and it won’t add a great deal to your sense of history. And there are times when you want to blow the dust off of it. But if you derive some pleasure out of long, moribund and somber dramas, it will perhaps be of some interest.