After reader David Sigurani asked what I thought about Starz’ Spartacus: Blood and Sand, I realized that I hadn’t really even considered watching it. This week, both Spartacus and The Deep End were eviscerated by critics to the point where watching them seemed kind of unnecessary. However, since David asked, and since critical impressions indicated that Spartacus was so obnoxiously bad that it would prove interesting if not fulfilling, I decided to sit down with the pilot.
What surprised me is not that the pilot is terrible, but rather that the pilot’s terribleness does not necessarily feel like some sort of tragedy. The show has absolutely no sense of subtlety, no character nuances, and a twisted depiction of both how human resolve conflict and express their love for one another, and yet there is so little actual content beyond those factors that I don’t feel as if there is some television travesty on display. Sure, I’d like to see the enjoyable Lucy Lawless on a better show, and I do wish Rome would have gotten a longer run, but I can honestly say that I check out of Spartacus: Blood and Sand with a shrug, and well wishes for those who stick with the show to see how it builds towards a second season that’s already been ordered, and that’s already stocking up on departing Dollhouse staffers.
More on why I’m checking out despite thinking the show could actually grow into something better, after the jump.
I don’t have any particular feelings towards sand, but blood is not my favourite thing in the world. I wasn’t squeamish, per se, as litres upon litres of blood was spilled in the show’s pilot, but I was entirely unmoved, which I’d consider a problem. The pilot decides that blood is something that people love, especially when it’s spilled in slow motion and splashes on the screen, which isn’t a baseless presumption: the producers saw 300, or more accurately saw its box office gross, and decided they wanted some of that action. However, even if someone does love those gimmicks, I can’t imagine they wouldn’t have tired of them based on how often they popped up here, as any impact it had was gone by the time we reached the conclusion. I’m imagining the same pilot where those techniques were only used in the climactic battle, and it’s far easier to handle in terms of accepting it as an actual narrative.
The entire pilot suffers because its action sequences are monotonously bloody, while its other scenes either try to duplicate the same gratuitous quality through sex or just feel completely out of place. While I found the pilot’s action, sex and talking all pretty boring since there were only paper-thin characters to participate in them, the latter was placed at such a stylistic disadvantage that the show could have never survived. There’s probably some potential for the more political side of the Gladiator trade to develop into something interesting if we take the Pilot as back story for our Spartacus, but the show demonstrates so little interest or effort in those sections that one has to wonder how it will ever develop to anything more than an afterthought. And because the part of the show they are more interested in, the blood, holds so little interest to me, there’s not enough for me to stick around to see when their priorities shift.
I have all sorts of little issues with the direction and the performances in the pilot, including the fact that no one seemed to be cold when out in the winter in freaking loincloths, but it’s not worth going into it all. The world the show wants to populate is reductive and poorly drawn, the plot hits various cliched beats and never bothers to follow through on most of them, and while there’s every chance that the show could eventually go from 0 to, say, 20 or so in a few weeks I really don’t want to wait around for that to happen. I might check back in Season 2 when the Whedonites truly arrive, but I think I’m going to let Spartacus have his own journey.
- I could think of all sorts of ways for the show’s thin premise to seem more engaging, like slowing down the pace and focusing more on Spartacus’ back story, but I don’t know if there’s any way for it to actually be more engaging.
- The laughable dialogue sort of tapered off after a while, but in the first few scenes I giggled way too often for a show this quasi-serious.
- Mo Ryan at the Chicago Tribune has said the show picks up in Episodes 3 and 4, but most critics didn’t get past the second episode – I’ll be curious to see if many people are watching by that point.
- I was way too distracted by the fact that Andy Whitfield looks exactly like Chace Crawford.