Monday, October 14, 2013

Spartacus (TV series) spoiler-free review

The Spartacus TV series is about the life and slave rebellion led by the gladiator Spartacus in Rome more than two thousand years ago. The Spartacus Saga: Uncut (all seasons, with extended episodes) is coming to STARZ, beginning on October 26th at 10pm ET.

Spartacus War of the Damned TV series poster

The Legatus Gaius Claudius Glaber sentences a Thracian soldier to be publicly executed while the man's wife is condemned to slavery. The man escapes execution to become a gladiator in the House of Batiatus and is given the name Spartacus. There, he meets other gladiators, including the doctore Oenomaus, Agron and his brother, the shrewd Ashur, and the champion Crixus who is in love with Naevia, the trusted slave of Batiatus' wife. After losing two people closest to him, Spartacus decides to rally the other gladiators and slaves to rebel against their masters and help free the other slaves in Rome. On the way, their paths cross with the former champion of the arena, Gannicus.

Main Cast:
Andy Whitfield - Spartacus
Liam McIntyre - Spartacus
Manu Bennett - Crixus
Dustin Clare - Gannicus
Daniel Feuerriegel - Agron
Pana Hema Taylor - Nasir
Peter Mensah - Doctore/Oenomaus
Lucy Lawless - Lucretia
Nick Tarabay - Ashur
Viva Bianca - Ilithyia
Cynthia Addai-Robinson - Naevia
John Hannah - Batiatus
Craig Parker - Glaber
Lesley-Ann Brandt - Naevia
Simon Merrells - Crassus
Jai Courtney - Varro
Todd Lasance - Caesar
Christian Antidormi - Tiberius



I had heard about the Spartacus TV series before but I did not really pay attention. I knew it was sexually explicit and I dismissed it as such: a cheap trick to have people watch a mediocre show. So I was not excited when I began watching the series. The pilot episode was weak and probably my least favorite episode in the whole show. Cartoonish special effects made the pilot look like a 300 clone and there were too many slow motion scenes that made the episode tedious to watch. But I kept watching and things got better and better. Soon, it was obvious to me that I love this series!

This show has three seasons and one prequel: Spartacus: Blood and Sands, Spartacus: Gods of the Arena (prequel), Spartacus: Vengeance, and Spartacus: War of the Damned. Blood and Sands features the original Spartacus actor Andy Whitfield. Whitfield underwent treatment for non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and while waiting for him to recover, the network produced Gods of the Arena. Unfortunately, Whitfield suffered a relapse and later on passed away. Liam McIntyre replaced him as the new Spartacus in Vengeance.

Spartacus TV series posters

I really liked Andy Whitfield as Spartacus. He portrayed the role with such quiet intensity that I rarely see in other actors. I was worried that Liam McIntyre would disappoint me as the new Spartacus but he turned out much better than I expected.

This show is very graphic. There are lots of nudity and sex scenes: full-frontal nudity, both male and female. There is also profanity as well as lots of gore: buckets of blood, flying limbs, chopped heads. It's easy for someone who just watches one or two episodes to dismiss the whole show and think that fans only watch it for the sex and violence. I agree that the show would have still worked even with less sex and violence but as it is, I feel that the explicit scenes are justified and add to the story and the understanding of the characters. The more you watch the show, the more you see the sex and violence as just scenery and you focus on what really hooks you -- the story and the dynamics of the different characters.

Besides, the setting of this show is ancient Rome -- a civilization where sexuality was openly embraced, slavery was normal, and watching men fight to the death was a popular form of entertainment. The erotic scenes give a clue to the emotional bonds of the characters and help show the villains as three-dimensional characters also capable of love and tenderness and not just caricature bad guys. The explicit cruelty to the slaves shown onscreen is a tool to help us viewers really understand how the Romans see their slaves as mere property that they can sell, use, abuse, and even kill as they so desire. Such scenes show us the plight of the slaves and also desensitize us when we see our heroes doing atrocities themselves, especially in season 3 where ordinary Roman civilians suffer the wrath of the rebels.

Spartacus is a well-written series that satisfies fans of pure action scenes as well as those looking for a more cerebral story. The plot progression is good and tight. The dialogue is unique and memorable (I suggest watching with subtitles so as not to miss anything). The characters are fully developed by the writers and brought to life by the talented cast. The villains are smart and sympathetic, even though they are sociopaths most of the time. They have redeeming values and are not one-dimensional. Even the heroes are complicated and not without flaws. After all, they are fighting for freedom yet their hands are stained by the blood of thousands of Romans, some of which are good people.

The presence of great villains is impressive in this show. Sometimes, you even root for them because they are so darn cunning and lovable. My particular favorites are Batiatus, Ashur, and Crassus. John Hannah shines as the highly ambitious and diabolical but deeply charming Quintus Batiatus, owner of the ludus (gladiator school) where Spartacus is enslaved. Ashur (played by Nick Tarabay) is another big fan favorite. A misfit among the gladiators, his shrewdness rivals that of Batiatus and serves both his personal interests as well as those of his masters, helping him secure an elevated status among the slaves. Marcus Crassus (played by Simon Merrells) acts as the "final boss". He's incredibly rich, very powerful, sharply intelligent, and probably the only Roman enemy who knows better than to underestimate Spartacus and his group.

Quintus Batiatus and Gaius Claudius Glaber from the TV series Spartacus
Batiatus and Glaber
Marcus Crassus from the TV series Spartacus
Marcus Crassus

And it's not just the major villains. Even lesser villains who have short screen times and who deserve a swift kick in the teeth, such as Numerius and Cossutius, make the series interesting.

The women of this show are likewise intriguing. Naevia starts out as a damsel in distress then develops into a highly capable fighter. Saxa and Mira are likewise kickass warriors. These women fight alongside Spartacus and his gladiator generals.

At the other side of the fence, the Roman women complement their men's talent in lies and deceit. The complicated frenemyship between Lucretia (played by Xena herself, Lucy Lawless) and Ilythria and their schemes to help their ambitious husbands are also a delight to watch.

Ilithyia and Lucretia from the TV series Spartacus
Ilithyia and Lucretia

One strong theme in this show is, surprisingly, love. A lot of our heroes' and villains' actions are done to support, avenge or protect their loved ones. Gays are also represented in the series and the show handles gay relationships in a respectful manner. These gay characters are not the stereotypical flamboyant or flirty type. They are actually very loving and loyal to their partners and their sexuality does not detract from their masculinity or fighting ability.

Rating: I give Spartacus a 10 for the first season (despite the not-so-strong pilot), 8 for Season 2 and the Sequel, and 10 for the third season. As a whole, I find the series highly entertaining so I give it a 10/10.

Video and image credit: STARZ

1 comment:

  1. It is now easier than ever to find seasons of shows that were produced 30 or 40 years ago, right alongside the DVDs of the television shows that are currently on the air.


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