This past weekend (Saturday, March 6 and Sunday, March 7), cable channel Starz ran a mid-season marathon of its original series, Spartacus: Blood and Sand. For those who hadn’t watched an episode yet, it was a good opportunity to get up to speed on the action and plotlines. For those who had watched the series, it was a good way to indulge in lust—both blood and the carnal kind.
In case you haven’t heard, this isn’t your father’s Spartacus. The series is unlike anything I’ve ever seen on the small screen—network or cable—and I watch a lot of T.V. Seven episodes in, and it’s garnered a fair amount of criticism for its depictions of sex and violence. But don’t be surprised if you find your Pops sitting on the couch next to you watching even if Kirk Douglas is nowhere in sight.
Despite the extremely graphic (but stylized) violence, and less graphic (but gratuitous) sex, Spartacus: Blood and Sand is worth watching, and here’s why:
Lucy Lawless: She can act. No, really, she can. If you’re like me, you loved Lucy Lawless in Xena: Warrior Princess. It was a cheesy T.V. show, the writing was bad, and the acting worse, but Lucy Lawless was sexy. Now take that sexiness, make it Skin-e-max sleazy, and you have her in a role (as Lucretia) that finally fulfills every fanboy’s dream. But even better than that—and I mean this in all seriousness—she can act. And it’s a great thing to see.
John Hannah: Yeah, the name doesn’t ring a bell with me, either. You might remember him from Four Weddings and a Funeral or Sliding Doors, but you most likely remember him as Johnathan Carnahan, the thief in The Mummy and The Mummy Returns. His role as Batiatus (Spartacus’ owner) is by far his best work, though. Hannah gives Batiatus many layers—harsh, greedy, weasel, brutal, irreverent. Couple him with Lucy Lawless, who plays his wife, and you have strong dramatic scenes to balance the blood and gore.
Plot: It’s getting progressively better. Trust me. I won’t give away any spoilers, but the show has taken steps with character development and plotlines that surprised me. Now, I’m not saying the writing is cutting edge and unlike anything out there, but the story arcs keep me entertained and coming back each week.
Sex and violence: Let’s be honest: this is what sells the show. The blood splatter is extremely over the top and the show has a TV-MA rating for a reason, but the sex and violence works. Some of the gladiator fight scenes are just enthralling, and creators Steven S. DeKnight and Rober Tapert’s take on historical Roman culture, especially its sexuality—both homosexual and heterosexual—is interesting, to say the least.
And when it comes down to it, that’s all one can ask of a television show—to be interesting.