Rome

Having now seen the whole first season of Rome (delivered by Mercury Couriers, delivery service to the gods) I can still heartily recommend the show. Even if your wife isn’t obsessed with ancient Rome.

The series is an odd creation: at times high brow, at times sleazy and voyeuristic, but mostly just human. Having edited the first three episodes into two, creating an impression of breakneck pace and non-stop sex, the BBC have reverted to the HBO episodes for the remainder of the season. Which is not to say that the impression left by their hatchet job is misleading… but it does perhaps overbalance the show towards its more sensationalist tendencies and away from the human drama at its core.

Over the course of the season the main characters, both famous and obscure, grow into rounded individuals to a point where you care what happens to them; screen time remains split evenly between Vorenus and Pullo’s world and Caesar’s, with their stories intersecting in unusual (and, let’s face it, unlikely) ways. Indeed, Vorenus and Pullo’s lives appear to be expressly designed to explore as many aspects of Roman life as possible, a burden which the characters successfully transcend.

I can’t speak for the show’s historical accuracy, which does appear to meander quite alarmingly in the middle of the season, but the bare bones of the story are true to what little I know of the time. Perhaps more importantly the series thrives on the little nuances of daily life in ancient Rome: formality; brutality; status-consciousness; habitual evocation of the gods. In this context cruelty and tenderness are often equally startling.

The first several episodes and the finale are penned by co-creator Bruno Heller, and there’s a qualitative difference in his episodes from the rest of the season, both in the richness of the world-building and in his relative restraint. Between his contributions there are some mid-season doldrums, but the final two episodes in particular are among the best drama I’ve seen in quite a while, rivalling the end of Deadwood’s first season for ability to rip compelling emotion from historical fact.

As in Deadwood, the characters are often noble in spite of themselves, or horrid against their nobler instincts. Ultimately it’s in those moments that the series manages to rise above tawdry soap-opera and become a little nobler itself.

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