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Hack and Gash

By Brian Prisco | TV | January 24, 2011 |

By Brian Prisco | TV | January 24, 2011 |

“Spartacus” is not a good show, by any stretch of the imagination. The quality of writing is embarrassing, a preteen with access to Seneca and Aeschylus and the opportunity to use potty words. Honestly, see if you can go four minutes on the show without being hit in the head with a blatant profanity. If there’s a chance to use a filthy word, by Jupiter’s cock, they’ll find a way to fit it in there. The digital effects are shameful. It looks like it was put together on a Commodore 64. It is the stupidest, dumbass slab of meat ever to cross a television screen.

And that’s what makes it a fucking blast to watch.

“Spartacus” is self-aware of its’ stupidity. It’s proud of it. It’s a wine-jug crushed on the forehead like a fratparty beercan. It’s a swinging dick tea-bagged into the face of the nerdly prospect gladiator it just swirlied in the communal baths. It’s tits and ass projected over a picture of tits and ass on a T-shirt showing tits and ass. It’s a NASCAR victory lap in the wrong direction in the face of oncoming chariot traffic. It is a stupid motherfucking show. And I can’t get enough.

It gives new meaning to the word “gratuitous.” There’s so much full-frontal nudity, I thought I had accidentally slipped in an episode of HBO’s “Real Sex.” I don’t believe there’s a single actress cast on the show that hasn’t shown her breasts at least once. And we’ve seen the thrusting asscheeks of every male in and out of toga and togs. In the name of “historical accuracy” muttered with all due seriousness as a warning, we’re given over a Rome full of glory-fucking, mindless rutting as reward and as privilege. Everyone is on constant display as so much meat.

And meat they are, as they are thrown to the grinder in all Zack Snyder slow-mo glory. A weapon is not swung on the show without gouts and torrents of digital fake blood spewing out of every wound. Occasionally, and to its detriment, there are almost cut-scene video montages of freezeframes with blood splashing like a panel in a Frank Miller comic. Limbs and heads are hacked with feverish aplomb. The gladiatorial combats were spectacle, and by Athena’s vagina, we get the full fucking show. It revels in murdering people in full-on, monster-truck rock riff brutality.

The plots are simple if not effective, kind of Shakespeare lite. Plenty of political maneuvering, lies and deceit, assassination and coronations, that sort of thing. It’s like watching a rematch of chess play: you know where pretty much most of the pieces are going to go, but you’re so swept up in the fucking overwhelming gratuitousness of everything that you go along anyway.

With star Andy Whitfield on hiatus with an aggressive cancer, the show needed to sate the viewer’s appetite for blood. Having killed off most of the cast with the finale — aptly titled “Kill Them All” — the producers decided to do a six-episode prequel in “Spartacus: Gods of the Arena.” It’s a nice chance to watch your favorite characters before they were twisted by the machinations of the ludus lifestyle. It’s a wonderful parallel with absolutely no subtleties, a love note to the cast of the first show and a clear opportunity for everyone to play together one last time, sans Andy.

Batiatus (John Hannah) has just inherited his father’s ludus, and is attempting to make a name for himself with his partner in crime Solonius (Craig Walsh Wrightson). Already, fans of the original are smirking, knowing full well what’s in store for these two men. Batiatus is touting a new champion of his ludus, Gannicus (Dustin Clare), a sort long haired pretty boy familiar to most WWE fans, a cross between Colin Farrell and Hugh Jackman, sans the charisma. Batiatus’s wife Lucretia (Lucy Lawless) joins up with her ne’er do well companion Gaia (Jaime Murray, Lila from Season 2 of “Dexter”), who swoons at every cock presented, passionately embroils her in a lesbian affair, and gets her hooked on opium and the notion of gladiator-fucking.

The entire episode is primarily about Batiatus grandstanding for his social betters in order to advance and earn a place in the new arena, at the cost and pride of some of his new stock. However, there are so many moments where we get introduced to some of our old friends in their new places. Crixus (Manu Bennett) is but a mere Gaul slave purchased in a political maneuver for a ridiculous sum, and we watch him get whipped in the ludus training by a pre-Iago Ashur (Nick Tarabay). Oenomaus (Peter Mensah), the future Doctore, is but a former champion recovering from his horrible wounds at the hands of Theokoles. Parallels to the previous series blend deftly with ironic twists at who the characters are in their past incarnations.

One thing I’ve enjoyed about the show is that it’s in your face with every aspect, but particularly the way it handles homosexuality. There’s no big deal made about it — the characters are too busy sticking their cocks in whatever hole is currently available. But in the same regard, especially with the swinging dick hoo-rah attitude of the gladiators, you’d think there’d be some mockery or taunting. It’s just a standard fact of life at the time. Barca (Antonio Te Maioha) is an openly gay gladiator, but they don’t flaunt him like he’s a rainbow flag. He kills and fucks, same as every other motherfucker, only he prefers men.

It’s a wonderful companion piece to the original series, borne clearly out of an unfortunate need to do something while their hero recuperates, but also out of a love for characters slain for story. Creator Steven S. DeKnight wanted to play a little more with the insanely talented John Hannah and Lucy Lawless, and so he gave them a miniseries. And he even managed to ramp up the blood and sex, if at all that were possible. Virtually the first shot of the first episode is a gladiator getting his head bisected at the mouth, so that his teeth and tongue are left flapping. The old favorites are just as manipulative and sinister, acting just as wonderfully as they were in the first series. Clare does a fine job as Gannicus, but he’s just not Andy Whitfield, which bodes poorly for Season 2 where he’s been replaced due to remission.

“Spartacus” is a guilty pleasure, and well worth the hour per episode. Netflix Instant Watch is streaming both the original 13 episodes of “Blood and Sand” as well as the new series weekly after the episodes air on Starz.

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