Monday, 28 February 2011

TV REVIEW: Spartacus: Blood And Sand Season 1

This show should just be called ' In The Arena.'

Part two of my blood and nakedness TV review extravaganza comes in the form of one of truly the most bizarre shows ever to be seen on television. Not in any kind of cool absurdest way, but in a wildly inconsistent, wildly erratic yet somehow sincere and occasionally impactful show. It shamelessly scrapes clean the corpses of superior shows like Deadwood and Lost, and so badly wants to be them it hurts. Its a fucking stupid show, but its got such a bravado and confidence you find yourself being won over anyway and I genuinely don't believe there's a show that's as good at making you not mind about the awful stuff, which always comes thick and fast. In a way its a poster boy for 'bigger picture' storytelling, where you don't sweat the small stuff because something AWESOME is about to happen. As a fan this is OK, but for the writer of a serialized show...Not really that OK.

First up I should say that every line of dialogue that anyone says ever is fucking atrocious, the pilfering of a Deadwood-esque pseudo poetic style only without the skill to make it sound anything other then laughable, combined with REALLY awkward swearing just means every line bombs. In every context. If somebody says something that doesn't make me squirm then it's a great and wonderful day for Spartacus: Blood And Sand. The acting, well holy shit. John Hannah gives the most appallingly hammy performance that should be the highlight of the show but is somehow the worst thing about it in spite of everything else. At times you seriously have to consider if he's taking the piss. The variety of super-buff gladiator types that make up the ludus, are all as wooden as hell, speaking the awkward dialogue even more awkwardly, just to make things more awkward. Only 300's Peter Mensah can act at all, and he can't do anything outside of shout ferociously, although I guess he does that pretty well. Lead Andy Whitfield is probably the most preferable male performance, and does on occasion try to bring dignity to proceedings, but its an uphill battle. The women, believe it or not in a show like this, fare much better. Lucy Lawless makes a decent villainess, although she's a shadow of her Battlestar Galactica character although that mostly worked because you were constantly surprised that it was Lucy Lawless from Xena being that good and I'm adjusted to that now. But its a series probably stolen by the appropriately named Viva Bianca as a manipulative roman socialite. She's the best of a bad bunch by merely being OK.

It's also the most overwrought show I've seen in a very long time, very obnoxious in how it must stay in your face at all times, and it means any time there's a real emotional moment it means nothing because the amp is always set to 11. To be clear I've said the writing is terrible, the acting is terrible and the overall tone is a joke but you still can't help but fall in with this show. It wins you over with sheer relentlessness, and once you've adjusted to the many things wrong with it it can be kind of awesome. Because despite all is difficulties, its a fearless show. Its a show that endeavors to blow your mind, a show that always tries to shock you and a show that always moves forward at a frightening pace. It did in its first 13 episodes what most shows would do in three years, and it has such a sense of ambition that you can forgive its failings in execution. So what if its clearer in their mind, and if you subscribe to the go big or go home philosophy then there's something here. Its certainly not shy of killing characters, nor going where you won't think it will go, you think its building to a reunion with his wife in the final episode. It's not. One particularly effective scene sees them kill a major character without warning or preparation and even a veteran TV death predictor with be caught off guard.

I think this is why it gets the praise it gets, because of this fearlessness. And perhaps because it has a sincerity missing from a number of similar shows, But that's literally all it has. Balls but not brains. For some people that's probably the perfect antidote to the Breaking Bad's and Mad Men's of this world, all full of their psychological bullshit. You get the same sense of darkness, but as seen through the eyes of a horny and bloodthirsty teenager instead of a grown ass man. If anything its secretly a comic book, or perhaps due to its perpetual and unblinking self-seriousness a graphic novel. But that's not enough for me really. I can make peace with it as a ridiculous guilty pleasure, but great TV. Not quite, not until it can master some the basics that it currently has no interest in mastering. I'm reminded of a quote that the creator of The Event said about the premise of his show. He said 'I want The Event to be like Lost and 24, but only the awesome parts.' Replace 24 with Deadwood and that's Spartacus. You don't need character development and intelligence when you've got orgies and decapitations. That's fine for now, but believe me this show has nowhere to go except fast enough that nobody notices its got no brakes.

Rating: 6/10

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