Our first clue that Spartacus would be pure, not even ironically enjoyable, piffle was the channel that bought it. Acquisition by a cable station isn’t the death stamp it used to be, but still, only the most tubercular of nags turns up on Bravo.
In this deadly first episode we learn how Spartacus (Andy Whitfield) ends up as muscle for the Romans. And we look on, not really caring, as his wife (Erin Cummings) is kidnapped after some alfresco, glad-you’re-back-from-war sex with her unwashed hunk. Scenes with the pair provide most of the show’s unforgettably awful moments. “Keep me close to your thighs” heaves our warrior as he ties some purple chord round her drumstick, then gallops off to battle. “I’d have preferred something by Tiffany!” she might have yelled after him, but didn’t.
The slow motion fight scenes are, we assume, supposed to make you shrink back and feel nauseous. But their stylised sluggishness is so ludicrous the horror diffuses. Slowing down footage of blood exiting a barbarian makes it look like ketchup leaving a gladiator Ken doll. In no way does it amplify the gore. Clearly, the people in charge of CGI on Spartacus disagree, because this is how it is all the way through. If you intend to keep watching, perhaps record it and fast-forward the fight scenes.
Now, let’s talk about sex. There’s lots of it, and this has titillated critics and viewers in the US. Perhaps we’re desensitised over here but, hand on naughty bits, there’s nothing in Spartacus, episode one that could be categorised as anything more than squidgy, soft porn. There are some bare bosom shots, a bit of light, nude missionary and an obligatory background orgy that looks like a music video. From the coverage, we were at least expecting to see midgets pleasuring emperors and some frenzied, filthy rutting between slave girls. Maybe we need to keep watching. Though, frankly, this critic would rather spend a fortnight in the gladiatorial ring than witness another micro-snatch of this hopelessly puffed up twaddle.
But it’s not all bad: the costumes look nice. And there’s some lovely scenery.