Spartacus: Blood and Sand
Spartacus: Blood and Sand is an orgiastic feast for all the senses. This show stands above all else in terms of its affront to televisual sensibilities. More violence, gore, sex & nudity - altogether - than any other show ever made. It has a style and it does not shirk its self-made responsibilities to deliver what the viewer expects of it time and time again.
This show is effectively the life and times of Spartacus, a Thracian, who agrees to fight alongside the Roman army against a common foe. This co-operation happens early in episode one but somewhat unsurprisingly things don't go overly well and he spends the remaining 12 episodes of the season doing all kinds of varied things and undergoing many more. For example he is separated from his wife and entered into slavery, sentenced to execution, enters into gladiatorial combat, shouts, shags and kills his way through half of the population of Capua and finally...well, I'll leave that to the show itself to explain. All in all, it's pretty damn awesome.
It's based on history, of course, as was Stanley Kubrick's movie version. Latin history often provides a superb base upon which to forge great drama and this show delivers it in spades. The stories, the action and all aspects quite frankly of this show are delivered consistently from start to end within the confines of one episode's length and the greater whole season arc. The pacing is perfect and the acting on the whole comes across as excellent. The show is an absolute blast, a romp, entertaining and brutal.
Some more on the acting, and cast. John Hannah as Batiatus is a cheeky conniving bastard; Xena as Lucretia is elegantly sexy but really quite strong and emotionally manipulative when needed. Andy Whitfield as Spartacus fills the lead role with aplomb and it is a great shame in more ways than one that he won't be able to continue in the role for season two (Vengeance - unfortunately due to recent diagnosis with Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma). The rest of the cast comes across as near faultless, too. Many truly are that good, but it's fair to say that even if a performance of one actor, or a certain character was awful, it would be hard to notice as the show is very OTT at every step of the way. The constant assault on the senses, akin to that seen in 300, only for many more hours, eliminates awareness of acting mis-steps but also dulls the caring of such things. It's not, after all what the show is about - forget any Shakespearian eulogy; this show is all about bombast all over, from head to toe.
Spartacus has had a lot of press in the UK and States. Not just for its excellent story-telling and thoroughly entertaining execution, but also for its seemingly extreme and prevalent handling of violence and sex. Taking the violence first, it is true that a large part of the show sees gladiatorial combat, domestic abuse, slave - master scuffles and more. But it's not out of place. We are circa 73 BC here. What are we meant to be seeing? This is a show for adults about adults in a time when life and life's expectations were very different to today. What is unacceptable now was a way of life, then. It's a shame though this hasn't had more focus than the other area of extreme media focus - the sex. It really has got more of this going on than anything else on TV. It out HBOs HBO. It shows the intimacy between husband and wives, slaves and masters, masked gladiators and important ladies...it's got it all. Again, the show is for adults. This is what happened, according to what we know. Why is it a problem to show it? Both the sex and the violence add to the show and help lift it above the parapet so it can loudly pronounce just how good it is. One final thing - US media and some outlets in the UK have slammed the show due to its sexual attitude. Shame they haven't gone at the violence, perhaps? Whilst I've argued its place here, rightly, in the wider world of today sex is a part of life and violence shouldn't be. Go after the right thing, folks.
Spartacus starts slowly. Indeed the pilot episode is of throwaway quality and no indication as to what can be seen in episode two onwards. The pilot deals with how Spartacus becomes a slave; the rest of the series sees him driving towards his end goal fuelled by his desire to be with his wife and atone for the sins he sees himself as having committed, leading to their plight. The show is relentless. Like 24 and Lost before it, many episodes are paced so well with beats in all the right places that you just have to start the next episode (if, like me, you're lucky enough to have all to hand). It really has filled the hole made by the aforementioned shows and built upon that foundation - entertainment in abundance. In this reviewer's opinion it is the best show in a long time. Better than Game of Thrones, better than Fringe. Amazing.