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TV Review – Spartacus: Blood and Sand

28 January 2010 by Phantom Troublemaker No Comment

Episode One: The Red Serpent

So STARZ – a channel I have never had and must admit to having little regard for – has this new show that’s getting all kinds of attention. Spartacus: Blood and Sand is the newest television venture by a couple of genre favorites – Sam Raimi and Bob Tapert. Not only is this the powerhouse team that brought us the Evil Dead movies, they are also the ones responsible for Hercules, Xena, Jack of All Trades, Cleopatra 2525 and the more recent Legend of the Seeker. I’ve seen just a few episodes of Hercules and pretty much only caught the episodes of Xena that featured Autolycus (I even have the action figure around somewhere – it is the mighty Bruce, after all), but both of those show seemed solidly entertaining. Jack and Cleopatra are a different story. I caught every episode of both while they were on. Jack of All Trades was unquestionably great as a vehicle for the unstoppable juggernaut of awesome that is Mr. Bruce Campbell. Cleopatra 2525 was pretty much just an excuse to ogle three hot chicks in skin-tight, Barbarella-esque space thongs; but was pretty great if you’re in to that sort of thing. I haven’t watched any of Legend of the Seeker (yet) so I can’t speak for that one.

What I’m trying to say here is if you liked any or all of the above but thought they’d be a lot better if they had a billion percent more gore, full-frontal nudity and use of the words “fuck”, “cock” and even the dreaded “c-word that shall not be named” then you should stop reading this right now and order STARZ.

Also, if you haven’t seen those but saw 300 and thought it could stand to be a bit campier; just go ahead and call your cable provider right now.

I haven’t seen the movie with Kirk Douglas in the loincloth, so this show is my first exposure to this particular tale. The main character (whose name is not actually “Spartacus”) is a Thracian who agrees to help those shitbag Romans fight off an invading army of crazy monster people called “Getae” (I think maybe they’re supposed to be Germans? I dunno). His totally hot wife doesn’t think that’s such a great idea because she had a dream – featuring the titular Red Serpent – telling her as much, but hunky Thracian guy gave his word, and his word is his bond, etcetera. Naturally – after some of the most ridiculously gory battles you’ve ever seen – things go south, because you should never trust anybody who cleans their shoes with their hat.

From there our story takes us to the city of Capua, where we meet a bunch of shitbags and the cowardly brother from The Mummy movies. I like this actor, so his character was immediately interesting to me. I don’t do spoilers, but suffice it to say we get a lot of political maneuvering and douchebaggery out of the characters we are introduced to here. Everybody wants to please the Senator, Albinius, and they aren’t shy about dicking each other over to do it. I was a little surprised (and pleased) by this aspect of the show. I thought this was going to be more about the gladiators and the arena, so all of this political intrigue really got me more invested in the show. There also wasn’t a second where I didn’t know who was who or what they were up to. This was a refreshing change from other debut episodes with large casts. All too frequently we get shows that just throw character after character at us without giving us a chance to really get into their individual stories. Blood and Sand really succeeds at setting up each player and letting you know where they stand.

Eventually we get back to our Thracian’s story. I don’t feel I’m giving anything away by telling you he is forced to compete in the arena and – much to everyone’s surprise – whoops the shit out of everybody. Throat cutting, amputation, disembowelments; he slices! He Dices! This guy even makes julienne fries. I liked the fact that the fight wasn’t totally one-sided, though. Soon-to-be-known-as-Spartacus gets his ass whipped pretty good, showing that his combat skills have room to grow along with his character as we follow his story arc. I like that the guy is badass but clearly not unstoppable. Yet.

The episode pretty much ends there. We get a few hints of things to come – enough to make me hungry for more.

I loved the hell out of Spartacus: Blood and Sand. It gave me more than I was expecting and did it all well. The storytelling was concise and straightforward; there wasn’t any of that mysterious plotline bullshit that seems so common these days. Yeah, I like to be challenged by a show like Lost every once in awhile, but not every fucking genre show on television needs to follow that formula. Sometimes it’s enough to just have a solid, consistent story that moves forward at a constant pace. Granted, Blood and Sand still has plenty of time to fuck up; but I’d like to think that Raimi and Tapert have enough television experience to trust the direction the show seems to have now, which goes along with what they have done in the past.
The show looks great. There is no denying that the visual style borrows (steals) heavily from 300, but it is done well. Watching this in 1080 is breathtaking. It is the best-looking thing I’ve seen in HD since District 9.

The cast is pretty awesome. They deliver this almost Shakespearean dialogue peppered (loaded) with profanity as naturally as if they had spoken that way all of their lives. This is important, because in less competent hands – or mouths, I guess – it could have come off as terribly awkward and forced. The women are all pretty much hot, and that is good considering the amount of time they spend naked. Apparently even Ms. Xena herself, Lucy Lawless – who plays the Mummy guy’s wife – throws out some nipple in a future episode! The main guy is the only one that drops trow, but judging from Mrs. Troublemaker’s reaction I’d say he’s not bad to look at, either.

I’m super-stoked about this show. I’ve watched it twice since we switched to STARZ (I was so sold on the show that I dropped HBO and got STARZ. I will probably reverse this when Spartacus’ first season wraps up so I can watch Eastbound and Down and Bored to Death) and can easily see watching it again, particularly if I can get a group over to do it. Apparently, the powers-that-be at STARZ agree with me, because they ordered a second season before the first had even aired. If you’re looking for a big, fun show to get hooked into from the beginning that already has a guarantee of at least two seasons; and have the means to order STARZ, I highly recommend Spartacus: Blood and Sand. The second episode airs Friday night and the premier is being rerun pretty consistently and is OnDemand if you have that service. Dive in and catch up. Granted, it still has plenty of time to suck; but going solely by what the premiere episode showed me I have confidence that that isn’t going to happen.

Verdict: 5 out of 5 Arterial Sprays Directly Into the Camera

Until next time, stay creepy


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