Tuesday, March 1, 2011

I Am Definitely Not Spartacus

Over the last month or so, I've been watching Starz' (Starz's?) version of Spartacus, which is streaming on Netflix.  I was resistant at first.  I'm not sure why there was resistance.  It's set in ancient Rome, an era I like, it's about fighting, an activity I like, it stars Xena (er, Lucy Lawless) and half the supporting cast of various episodes of Xena and Hercules, and I was told "it's a lot like 300".

Eventually, when I saw it streaming on Netflix and I was in between video game moods (I had beaten Mass Effect 2 for the fifth time and was getting stuck in a lot of subway tunnels in Fallout 3) I gave it a shot.  (Also I found out Erin Cummings was in it.)

Woo boy.

Spartacus is sort of like 300 if they add in sex and Rome and the word "cock".  A lot of the word cock.  Mostly referring to Jupiter's.  I can understand the comparison; stylistically it's very similar.  There's a lot of CGI backgrounds (some better than others), muscley dudes wearing very little clothing, and lots of fighting.

Also Peter Mensah.

Doctore.  Also the Persian dude that gets kicked into a well by Leonidas.

But there are a lot of differences also, and (blasphemy!) I sort of ended up liking Spartacus, overall, more than I liked 300.  I think it benefits from the serialized nature of television in that it can tell a whole bunch of stories beyond just "buff dudes fight, blood, die!" (though the 300 movie fleshed out Gorgo's story from the comic, it was still pretty basic).  

And that's where I stop comparing them, because Spartacus stands on its own.  Despite the subtitle, it's about more than just Killing And Stuff.  There's a lot of intrigue and weaving and interweaving of storylines, which is something I like.  So props to the writers on that.

The acting's not half-bad, either.  

I went into the show knowing that the lead, Andy Whitfield, wouldn't be continuing after s1 due to illness.  So I tried not to get too attached.  But the dude was so damn good.  I'm giving Liam McIntyre a chance (he's a very charming, if not active, twitterer @Liam_J_McIntyre), but he's got a really large set of sandals to fill.  Or boots, depending on the scene. 

Andy Whitfield: Spartacus I

By now you can probably tell how they dress in this show. 

Anyway, Whitfield brought a lot of depth to Spartacus that I wasn't expecting.  He wasn't just sad, frustrated, smart, or arrogant. He was all of those things.  And he evolved.  I've written before of my love of character development, and Spartacus did well with it.

I think the most interesting character was the one I hated the most at first: Crixus.  Crixus is the Alpha of the Gladiator pack, and is a big arrogant ass of assiness.  For a little while.  But by the end of the first season, I was actually sort of rooting for him to make the right decision (granted, history sort of spoiled me by being, well, historical... but still!).

And then there were the villains, Batiatus and Lucretia, played soooo well by John Hannah and Lucy Lawless.  Lucretia especially.  Being a woman in Roman times wasn't exactly the best situation, and Lucretia is basically one rung above a slave in the social construct, being the wife of a Plebian (not that they ever use the word).  She is a master manipulator who, even when you think she's out-maneuvered, will somehow have gotten her enemy into a corner.

Well, until the end.  (But that's history, so no one yell at me for spoiling.)

And after the spectacular end, we got a prequel.  The six-part miniseries Gods of the Arena, which just finished up last week and managed to be nearly as awesome as the first season, with less episodes and no Spartacus.  (It did have Jaime Murray, though.  So there's that.)  It rested heavily on the shoulders of John Hannah and Lucy Lawless, but they totally delivered.  Someone give Lucy Lawless an Emmy or something, because Lucretia has become one of those most interesting, nuanced female roles on television.  So give the writers an Emmy or something, too.  And the relationship between Batiatus and Lucretia is really... strangely wonderful.  They really love each other, they just happen to be twisted by their circumstances.

As you can tell, somewhere between the "this show is gonna suck" mentality I went into, and my annoyance that Netflix didn't have the finale of Gods of the Arena  until daaaaaaaaaays after it aired, I got hooked on the show.  I think it's because beneath all that blood, sand, sex (props again to them for having full-frontal male nudity to go along with the female nudity, because most "daring" shows don't give it the equal treatment) and cock-talk, there's actually a pretty deep show about class divides, social mobility, freedom, and the way human beings relate to each other.

The sex and violence are just sort of... red herrings.  Pretty red herrings (yes, even the violence, because martial arts are neat), but not the point of the show. 

By the way, the violence is violent.  I'm not going to suggest this show to the faint of heart, even though sometimes it can be comic-style over-the-top violence.  'Cause sometimes it's not.  And even the over-the-top stuff can be fairly graphic.  So if you can't handle violence, don't watch the show.

And if you can't handle the sex, grow up.  (Ahem.)

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