Rome, Season 1 (USA/UK/Italy, 2005)

91vyTb6gewL._SL1500_Created by: John Milius, William J. MacDonald, and Bruno Heller. I’ve been on a bit of a TV binge lately, and it’s left me scrounging for content. No more Boardwalk, no more Breaking Bad, and I’m stuck waiting for new seasons of Game of Thrones, Mad Men, True Detective, House of Cards, Peep Show, and god knows what other junk I’ll sink my teeth into. But after listening to a great podcast about the Fall of the Roman Republic, and after reading the first few chapters of The Twelve Caesars by Seutonius, I’ve had a proper hankering for some Roman history, and once I remembered that I could get that in TV form, I couldn’t help myself. Talk about two birds with one stone! Add to the fact that this is only a commitment of 2 seasons, it’s kind of the ideal TV show for me. That being said, this isn’t a great show or anything. I didn’t expect it to be, really, so it wasn’t disappointing or anything, but it’s definitely not one of the “great TV shows” or anything (and the opening credit sequence was one of the worst I’ve seen—it’s almost laughably bad). It’s a pretty good show, with pretty interesting characters, and great acting and everything. For me, the novel setting, the different culture, the history nerd bits, and the acting, are all excellent points to give this thing a boost right out of the gate for me. This period—the transition from what was the (Western) world’s biggest democracy to what was, in effect, the world’s first modern fascist state; the rise and assassination of Julius Caesar—is one of the most interesting periods of world history, and I find it particularly fascinating. Not that this is a history documentary or anything, but it’s satisfying to see it anyway. This show even takes a few winks and nods at the idea of historical accuracy and builds it into the very fabric of the show by showing minor characters (women and low-born men) who generally aren’t big in the history books sort of secretly pushing the forces of history forward. I’m sure a lot of people find this aspect pretty tedious and corny, but I love it. Those two leads are great—Titus Pullo and Lucius Vorenus—played by Ray Stevenson (who’s pretty good in Kill the Irishman even though it wasn’t very good) and Kevin McKidd (Tommy in Trainspotting, and also part of the ensemble in Topsy-Turvy). Even though McKidd is generally a better actor I think, Stevenson is so well cast here that he’s more than up to the task of filling the shoes of that likeable idiot Pullo. I’m not sure how satisfied I was with the way their character arcs ended, Vorenus finding out about his wife’s infidelity and her committing suicide, and Pullo walking off into the sunset in the cheesiest, laziest way possible (they literally just walked off into the sunset). But the way that the Julius Caesar storyline ended was absolutely amazing to watch. Considering they’ve picked a medium—the HBO TV drama—that usually depends on the element of surprise, of sexy, unforeseen plot twists to supply the dramatic impact, and considering that, you know, we know for sure that Caesar is going to get stabbed to death at the end and that Brutus is behind it, I was incredibly shocked and surprised and deeply affected to see that scene in the last episode. The assassination sequence was one of the best climaxes in a TV show I’ve seen, and it’s all the more impressive because of the handicap of surprise mentioned before. I was fully expecting it to happen, but the way it was done, so bare and so without dramatic flares and so straightforwardly brutal, that I was completely devastated to see Caesar lying there, quivering in his blood, giving Brutus that look of betrayed brokenheartedness, saying with his eyes (but not his fucking words): “And you, Brutus?” And while we’re on the topic, my man Ciarán Hinds was completely amazing in that role (he even looks like Caesar), and Brutus (Tobias Menzies) pulls a lot of gravity here, proving himself more than capable of matching Ciarán. The other players here are amazing too, including the young Max Pirkis (that memorable scene-stealing kid who loses his arm in Master and Commander) as Octavian, the future Augustus; Kenneth Cranham doing an amazing job playing Pompey; and Karl Johnson as Cato, a bit more hammy and drama-y in this role than the restrained and bizarre role as Wittgenstein in the Derek Jarman film. I’ve gone a bit long here, but the gist of it is: I really liked it for personal/historical/nerd reasons, even though it wasn’t actually that great of a show. But with only one other season in existence, I’ll definitely check it out.

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4 responses to “Rome, Season 1 (USA/UK/Italy, 2005)

  1. Pingback: List of Judgements, Anno Domini 2014 | Offhand Reviews·

  2. Pingback: Mad Men Season 7, Part 2 (USA, 2015) | Offhand Reviews·

  3. Pingback: Closed Circuit (UK/USA, 2013) | Offhand Reviews·

  4. Pingback: Rome, Season 2 (USA/UK/Italy, 2007) | Offhand Reviews·

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