Review – Spartacus: Blood and Sand – Season 1 Episode 1
On January 22nd, Starz launch “Spartacus: Blood and Sand” – surely the most ridiculously named show of the season. Equal amounts man boobs to actual boobs, the opener catapults you to an ultra-violent, hyper stylized world where characters live and die by their ability to backstab — and quite often actually stab — other characters.
The show is helmed by Steven DeKnight – formerly of “Buffy The Vampire Slayer” and “Dollhouse” – and story editors include Andrew Chambliss (“Dollhouse”) and Tracy Bellomo (“Dollhouse”). They also wrote an episode in the season.
The fact the show is on cable rather than broadcast becomes evident within seconds — no, it’s not the violence which gives it away (if you’re on FOX I think you’re actually required to mess somebody up every act break), it’s the opening line (““Hold your fucking tongues”). Yes, there’s swearing. The most amount of swearing I can recall since “Deadwood”. There’s also a fair amount of sex scenes, and all credits to them for having a man go down on a woman within the first 17 minutes. I don’t think you’ll be seeing that on FOX soon, unless there’s a Very Special episode of The Simpsons.
So, we have sex, we have violence, do we have plot? The answer surprised me. Because it’s a yes. During the opening hour we meet an array of different characters – most of whom look visually different, which helps being able to identify people – who also seem to be looking at things differently, or looking to take a different path. In the opener we’re really looking at things from the point of view of Spartacus (you’re surprised, aren’t you? Admit it) and his wife. The fact him and his wife are at it like bunnies within 10 minutes is expected; what isn’t expected is that when it comes to the required scene of Spartacus saving his wife’s life, instead of killing everybody and finishing with a kiss in slow motion, you actually end up watching him almost get himself killed in slow motion – and his wife having to save him by going all Buffy. It’s hot, and suggests the writers may actually be going somewhere with the plot.
Female cast wise, we have (left to right) Lucy Lawless as Lucretia (a vaguely defined character who is hovering in the background for now), Viva Bianca as Ilithiyia (a character who has lovable bastard people manipulator written all over her, who is well played by Viva) and Erin Cummings as Sura (Spartacus’ wife, portrayed with style by Erin).
Of course, then there’s the men:
Yes, this show is going to have a huge following on Livejournal. There’s going to be slash written within the first 4 minutes of this airing. Spartacus is played by Andy Whitfield — and played extremely well. The opening episode is very dense in terms of character setup and plot, and both Whitfield, the writers and the director guide us through the tale with expert craftsmanship. Of particular note is that I don’t believe there is a scene in the episode which could be removed without hurting the story. Okay, you could cut a few of the nipple shots, but I’m all about the nipples as a rule.
Another standout thing on display is budget. I don’t know if they’ve blown their load in the opening 50 minutes or not, but this episode visually plays more like a motion picture than an episode of television. If nothing else, this show should sell internationally to networks based on screening this episode. They will be impressed by the production values.
It’s not to say there aren’t problems. In truth I think some of the stylized elements may put off viewers — at times it becomes extremely ‘comic’, to the point of scene changes being jarring. There is also a question of how the show will work week to week – after watching episode 1, I’m not sure. It’s all setup. It is also so busy setting up the world it sometimes forgets to absolutely define who the other players are – yes, we get they’re all after something, but what I’m not sure. Who says I have no patience? Me.
But overall, it introduces what feels like an entirely new television fantasy world with characters to care about and people to hate. And it has hot men and women without much clothes. I’m in. Are you?