Trash. If there's one word that describes Spartacus: Blood and Sand, it is trash. Now, that's not to say this is garbage in any way. On the contrary, it is a surprisingly good piece of television drenched in scene after scene of pure, unadulterated trash. Drowning itself in the myth of Roman excess, Spartacus sets out to tell the classic story that we know from the classic film of the same name (and the lesser known historical figure upon which he was based), stretching that story out over the course of a few seasons. But instead of characters plotting and scheming in a quiet room apart from the rest of the world, they often do so in lavish pools, while being serviced by slaves who they have no qualms about having sex with ... while talking with co-conspirators. Such is the nature of Spartacus. It is a blood-soaked, sex-fueled, over-the-top foray into sleazy late-night television with terrible special effects that try desperately to evoke the look and feel of Zack Snyder's 300 while lacking the visual acumen or budget to even deserve the comparison.
So why do I like it? Why is it even worth watching? Because the writing and performances far exceed the low-rent trashiness that is its selling point for a portion of the audience. Are there scenes of characters having discussions while having sex? Yes. But the actors are so good that they make it believable. They focus you like a laser upon what they are saying rather than what they are doing. Sex becomes so passé that it is simply something in the background -- something going on to break the monotony of people sitting around in Old World sets.
The series works because the makers understand the fundamental nature of great epic storytelling: that our hero has to suffer (REALLY suffer) for us to truly identify with him and appreciate his plight. And that's exactly what happens here. Even up to the end of the first season, Spartacus is suffering. Nothing goes his way. Everything gets worse and worse, even as it appears to get better, and when the bloodletting begins, you cheer on his animalistic brutality and the cruel way he dispatches those under whom he has suffered. Base, crass and unrepentantly exploitative, the story and actors telling always transcend the overdone silliness to which it often sinks, making this the type of series you want to both celebrate and wag your finger at simultaneously. Some might argue that you have to give yourself over to the exploitation, but I think ultimately the sex and violence do a great job illustrating exactly what it was that so troubled the Roman empire, and creates Spartacus as a truly just man cast among pompous barbarism parading around as civility.
There is so much intelligence behind this series that it cannot be discounted for its pandering faults. It is something that, once begun, becomes hard to put down. And now that it is on DVD and Blu-ray, you can relish every delicious, decadent moment of season 1. The box set comes with the standard array of special features, most of which you should be familiar with: making of, gag reel, origin of the show, yada yada. The only interesting variation is a sizzle reel of about eight minutes of the bloodiest moments from the series, all cut together to music. As these scenes tend to showcase the restraints of the budget, it wasn't my cup of tea, but if the violence interests you, this reel should do the trick.
Spartacus: Blood and Sand is available now on DVD and Blu-ray from Anchor Bay.