My commute to work includes a 50 minute train ride from Mandurah to Perth. This, along with the wonders of my Android phone and a set of headphones, has allowed me to watch some great TV shows I wouldn’t normally be able to watch for want of time. I’ve been doing this for a while since I moved down here. Last year I watched the entire Alias series straight through. At two episodes a day, it took me around 11 weeks to get through. And boy it was hard going for most of the last season but I figured I had to finish it because I’d already invested in watching 90 episodes.
Of late I’ve picked up on a few other good shows, including Spartacus: Blood and Sand, which was the first season and Spartacus: Gods of the Arena which was the second season. The first series told of an unnamed Thracian soldier (later renamed Spartacus) captured by Romans, sold into slavery and trained as a Gladiator by Roman by the name of Gnaeus Cornelius Lentulus Batiatus, who was played as a completely evil man without a shred of morality, scruples or dignity by John Hannah. It’s said that an audience will hate a good villain but love a great one…well, Batiatus certainly qualifies as the latter. Hell they could have made the entire show center around him and it would have been just as entertaining. The second series Gods of the Arena was a 6 series prequel showing the rise of Batiatus. The entire Spartacus series had completely over the top violence, and showed little subtlety or restraint.
Rome, another sandles and swords genre show, I found was the antithesis of Spartacus. Over two series it tells of the political intrigue and treachery of the classical Roman era around 52BC: Julius Caesar’s friendship of and Betrayal by Pompey Magnus, and the aftermath of Caesar’s assassination being a struggle between his son Octavian (later crowned as Emperor Augusts Caesar) and Marc Antony. The whole story is told from the perspective of two minor characters, an unlikely odd-couple of Roman Soldiers named Lucius Vorenus and Titus Pullo. This method of storytelling was used famously in The Hidden Fortress by Akira Kurosawa and by George Lucas in Star Wars. For example, Star Wars is told mostly from the point of view of two droids named R2-D2 and C-3PO, but the story is about Anakin Skywalker. This method has a name but I can’t remember. Little Help? Anyhow, Rome is a grand production with lavish sets, fantastic costumes and great acting. And, importantly, from what I understand, it is mostly historically accurate. If you missed it when it showed on TV, then do yourself a favour and find a copy. I thoroughly recommend it.
My new must-watch series is Game of Thrones from HBO, the same producers that brought us Rome. It’s only one episode old so far but it has the same grand scale and ambitious production values. Among others it stars Sean Bean and Lena Heady, and tells political and familial intrigue in a fictitious land. Rome has set expectations very high, but the early verdict is that Game of Thrones is going to be awesome.
Seriously, don’t watch any of these shows with your young ‘uns. You will see lots of sex, lots of explicit violence and hear lots of rude language. But if you can get over these issues then Spartacus and Rome still have entertainment value as well as educational value, though Spartacus very much less so.