I was the happy recipient of the first season of Spartacus: Blood and Sand (Starz) last week and finally had a chance to pop in the DVD today and start watching. However, having kids means that I have to schedule this particular entertainment at a time when they're not home. Like most shows on the premium channels it has violence, nudity and language in abundance. Because of the time constraint I was only able to get through two episodes today-- not enough for a proper review-- so I'm just going to give a quick summary of my first impressions.
Holy cow! Xena's naked!
Having a show set in ancient Rome definitely screams nudity as far as reputations go. It doesn't matter whether the story is set in Pompeii (with its notoriously phallic fixation) or our vague imaginings of the wild Bacchanal (to which the show does refer in the early episodes), it's something all the "it" shows are only too happy to feature; but I'd be surprised if any nudity on this show gets more attention than that of Lucy Lawless. I mean, she's Xena! But she gamely jumps in with sex scenes that are raunchily vivid. Like "True Blood," (which has earned a reputation for being "vampire porn,") "Spartacus" has been jokingly been referred to as "Debbie Does Rome." I am not any kind of an expert on ancient Rome, so I can't say whether the show is historically accurate; though I bet it's highly exaggerated. And the show doesn't discriminate between male and female nudity. You'll see more women overall, but the men aren't exactly shy when it comes to displaying the goods.
I didn't know you could lose so much blood and still live...
Like the name of the show ("Blood and Sand") implies, there's a whole lot of blood spilled on this particular show. In fact, it doesn't just spill, it flows, spurts and puddles in copious quantities. The CGI use becomes clear in the battle scenes primarily because of the show's unusual fixation with blood. It seems as if the sepia tones that seem to overlay everything are there merely to highlight the redness of the blood as it splashes across the screen in slow-motion splendor. It doesn't matter whether someone receives a major or minor wound-- there will be blood and lots of it.
We do love a good spectacle...
The centerpiece of the Spartacus story is the Gladiator Arena. The show wastes no time in featuring the bloody sport (appropriately so) and the scenes are unnerving-- but not for the reasons you'd expect. When you watch it, you can't help but think are we so different today? We might not keep slaves or literally throw people to the lions anymore, but seeing the crowd cheer on the grotesqueness of the games put me in mind of the modern voyeuristic indulgence-- the reality show. Perhaps I'm getting old, or maybe I'm too young to put it all in perspective. I'm not sure which. But the uninhibited culture of the hyped-up reality show, coupled with the YouTube culture, makes me think we've resurrected the spectacle depicted in "Spartacus" with a modern twist. It doesn't matter what people do as long as they're willing to do it for an audience and people will flock to see it.
I'm normally not drawn to watch anything that's heavy on the sex and violence but the lead in "Spartacus," Andy Whitfield, is very compelling. I do know that Whitfield is not scheduled to return for a second season (due to a very unfortunate cancer diagnosis), but I can't quit the show even knowing that. I hear the first two shows of the season are the weakest and that it gets much better as it moves along-- so I'm willing to put in the time. (If they can replace Dumbledore....) And I won't lie, I'm curious to see what they're going to have Lucy Lawless do next.