Tuesday, August 30, 2005


"Popular history has given Ancient Rome more than its due. While their society was certainly advanced in terms of its approach to politics, to the arts, and to warfare, this is not to suggest that the Roman people were in any way more sophisticated than the American people are today. Popular literature and film has greatly romanticized - or, perhaps, mythologized - life in Ancient Rome, giving the impression that Romans were cultured and refined to a degree that is almost unheard of today. In actuality, Romans were violent, hedonistic, and crude."

Sadly, I can't attribute that quote to anyone in particular, because I just made it up. Nonetheless, it may as well have been spoken by the minds behind Rome, the new HBO series that is moving to fill Six Feet Under's recently vacated timeslot, because it's inherent in every shot and every line of dialogue. It's a history lesson that keeps our attention by showing us just how provocative and gratuitous history can be.

In her review on slate.com, Dana Stevens proclaims the series to be boring, but I would disagree with her (although I think her reference to Forrest Gump is brilliant). While the first episode did leave a sour taste in my mouth, so to speak, I didn't find it boring; it was far too filled with nudity, sex, and violence to be labeled as boring. It is not, however, a testament to the quality of a show's writing if it only maintains the viewer's attention by outdoing itself with shocking material at every turn.

I do believe that Roman life was just as hedonistic as their portrayal indicates, but I nonetheless came away with the impression that the show's creators were merely capitalizing on this aspect of Roman society to make a soap opera that they could pass off as some sort of costume drama. They've clearly done a great deal of research, but for all their attempts at historical accuracy, it seems from the first episode that they've really just created a show for people who like the gratuity and melodrama of daytime television, but don't like to admit it. Thankfully, Rome allows you to slake your thirst for vice without feeling any guilt because you're supposedly learning ancient history at the same time, and it's on HBO, so it must be classy and avant-garde.

Although the art direction, cinematography, and the overall look of the show are very good - the opening credits sequence, which gives life to ancient Roman graffitti, very well may be the best part - Rome is nowhere near filling the admittedly large shoes of Six Feet Under. HBO can do better.


Blogger Quimby said...

Six Feet Under was overrated. i haven't seen Rome, except for a few minutes.

Why do dramas set in ancient civilization always use British actors?


September 04, 2005 7:59 AM  
Blogger steve said...

Well, Rome is co-produced by the BBC, but still, you're right. Somehow, British has always worked its way into meaning foreign, ancient, or just sophisticated. It must be particularly annoying for British viewers; a frustrated English friend of mine said she would have preferred it had the makers of Rome taken a cue from Mel Gibson and written all the dialogue in Latin.

September 08, 2005 1:14 PM  
Blogger Quimby said...

Maybe when they ransacked the ancient world and used its treasures to pack their museums, those snarky monocle monkeys also secured the licensing rights to all t-shirts, lunch boxes, and premium cable TV series.

Just a thought.


September 08, 2005 3:59 PM  

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