Friday night, I queued up the first episode. My expectations were already high, so it would be mighty hard to impress me. And yet - I was utterly blown away. The opening credits bring life to Roman graffiti - which neatly presages how completely the series as a whole brings Rome itself to life. Although all the great players in the ending of the Republic are present as characters - Caesar's struggle for domination of Roman politics is more the backdrop to the real story. At heart, this is the story of two men - fictional characters - Titus Pullo and Lucius Vorenus, who are excellent choices to demonstrate the life of soldiers and civillians in Rome other than the high and mighty. That, and they're both engaging characters - likeable in their own way. Pullo is a hulking man who is simple of thought, broad of pleasures, and fearsome in a fight. As a line legionnaire in Caesar's own Legio XIII his reckless courage is actually his undoing; even as he knocks down countless Gauls (and really, who doesn't want to knock down countless Gauls, even today?) he breaks the ranks, and thus the strict discipline of Vorenus' file. Vorenus is the Primus Pilum - or highest ranked Centurion in the legion. He is the leader of the first company, and commands the best of the best. Vorenus has the easy authority and confidence of a military leader who is the veteran of countless campaigns. He punishes Pullo for breaking ranks, and thus the story starts.
After the first episode - a two hour pilot - I was so utterly entranced that I watched the entire 12 hour first season over the weekend. I feel embarassed, but not at all sorry that I spent so much time broadening my ass rather than out and about. It was worth it. "Rome" makes Rome alive - we see life amongst the plebians, the slaves, the patricians, the freedmen. We see shocking acts of violence, casual corruption and weird sex a-plenty. The machinations of the women of the great family are every bit as cut-throat, and ultimately crucial to the scope of history - as that of the military leaders and their legions at war. And every character, every actor - is spot on brililant. I actually am now realizing that I don't have any criticisms ... from the broad brush strokes of epic struggles, to the intensely personal journeys of Pullo and Vorenus (who find themselves in very Flashman-like situations throwing them into the midst of nearly every major event during the end of the Republic) - every bit of it is genius. HBO has made a wide variety of truly excellent episodic dramas - but this one is by far the best. I've got no nitpicks ... and though I'm sure there are historical anachronisms, I didn't catch any. Either they're too subtle to be detected by me, or they're just not there. In fact, the one thing I thought I caught (Gauls painting themselves blue) turned out to actually be a ruse by Pompey to distract Caesar into chasing Celt-Iberians.
Everything about this series is amazing - including one of the bloodiest, most amazing combat scenes I've ever seen. It's so impossibly badass that it's ludicrous...but even the characters are aware of how ludicrous it is, and it ends up affecting the scope of all of history... which is only approprate for the most manly act of brotherhood and courage since Leonidas at Thermopylae. If it were true, "THIRTEEN!" should go down in history with "Come and take them." as the very height of laconic badassness.
See this series. Borrow it from me, if you have to - but see it. Be aware it has lots of very graphic violence and sex - including full-frontal nudity, and depictions of sex-acts, and so is not appropriate for children. Well, not for YOUR children, anyway. I'd let mine watch it. (If I had any)