‘I am Chartacus!’ What to expect from ‘Spartacus,’ Starz’s bloody, sexy gladiator drama

What should you expect from "Spartacus: Blood and Sand" (9 p.m. Central, Starz) and "Caprica" (8 p.m. Central, Syfy), which both premiere Friday? In this post and in a companion piece on "Caprica," here are some answers to the questions you may have about these much-anticipated programs.

"Spartacus: Blood and Sand" (9 p.m. Central Friday, Starz)

Who is on the creative team?
The executive producers are Rob Tapert ("Xena." "Hercules" fame), Sam Raimi ("Spider-Man," "Evil Dead") and Steven S. DeKnight. 

What's the "Battlestar Galactica" connection?
Lucy Lawless, who was enjoyable as D'Anna Biers on "Battlestar" (and starred in "Xena"), does similarly fine work as Lucretia, the scheming wife of Batiatus, the financially strapped owner of a gladiator school.

What's the "Buffy" connnection?
DeKnight has written for "Smallville" but he's also been one of Joss Whedon's go-to scribes — DeKnight's past credits include "Dollhouse," "Buffy" and "Angel."

What's the premise?
A warrior is forced into slavery and into the gladiator arena by the scheming Romans, but he dreams of regaining what he has lost and wreaking revenge on his captors.


How much sex is there?
Oh my toga, there's a lot of sex. Given that Starz is a pay-cable channel, its programs can show a lot. And in "Spartacus," nobody holds back. If you were ever under the impression that Romans were ascetics who practiced celibacy, "Spartacus" should clear up that misapprehension. However, "Spartacus," to its credit, employs a refreshingly egalitarian approach toward sexuality: The desires and activities of both genders are shown and homosexuality is treated as no big deal.

Are there robots? No robots. But there are plenty of rippling abs and lots of stylized, gory gladiator action. 

How's the first episode? The quick way to describe "Spartacus" would be to call it an attempt to re-make the movie "300" as a TV show with a (much) smaller budget. That description is especially apt in the first episode, which is somewhat clunky, derivative and humorless. There's lots of slo-mo blood and gore, lots of sex, a washed-out color palette and some groan-inducing acting from the supporting cast. But the poetic and evocative dialogue works, amazingly enough (it's almost Shakespearean at times), and as the world of Spartacus is fleshed out (in more ways than one), the show develops momentum and the intrigues become more interesting.

How many episodes have you seen?
I've seen four episodes, and they get better as DeKnight and his writers add details to this world and as Spartacus begins to make friends and enemies at the ludus, or gladiator school. 

Why did you feel a little guilty when watching it? For years, dozens of serious dramas have treated female characters as window dressing and/or sex objects. Now comes "Spartacus," in which dozens of male characters are usually dressed in loincloths, if they're dressed at all, and some are used as sex toys by rich Roman women. There's a lot of manly beefcake on display here, but that's partly the point: Gladiators were treated as so much meat to be used and abused as their owners saw fit. Still, it felt strange to watch a show in which the men were the ones with their physical assets constantly on display. I almost felt guilty for objectifying the menfolk. For a little while.

What's the reason to watch? John Hannah turns in a fierce, compelling performance as Batiatus, the owner of Spartacus and his fellow gladiators.


Who's the breakout actor?
Newcomer Andy Whitfield turns in a competent performance as the title character, a Thracian warrior with abs of steel, but Peter Mensah is ferociously watchable as the Doctore, the lead instructor of the ludus. You do not want to tell this guy that the canis ate your homework.

What should viewers not expect? Don't think you'll be getting much, if any, of the irreverent humor that you saw on "Xena." "Spartacus" is much more serious, which makes sense, up to a point, but this Starz show could stand to lighten up a bit, given that it's a soap opera about sweaty men in gladiator undies.

What silly nickname did you give this show? "Sparty Down"

Rating: Three stars. "Spartacus" develops into an enjoyably soapy escape — a la the similarly sweaty and sex-drenched "True Blood" — as its first season progresses.

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