My boyfriend Joe and I watched an awesome new TV show last night called Spartacus: Blood and Sand. And by “awesome,” I mean, “terrible.” And by “new,” I mean, “basically a rip-off of every other like-minded TV show or movie that’s come before it.”
Don’t get me wrong: this happens all the time and I’m sure it wasn’t intentional. I wrote a story that I thought was awesome and original and it turns out Jhumpa Lahiri beat me to it. She wrote almost the exact same story, years before I did, and won a whole bunch of prizes for the collection it appeared in. Like that one, you know, the big one? Oh yeah. The Pulitzer. Whatever.
So, OK, I’m certainly not going to go up against a Pulitzer prize winning literary superstar now that I know my story is just like hers, but the guys behind Spartacus: Ass and Titties probably didn’t realize they were so blatantly copying other sources. I mean, honestly, who actually saw 300? Barely a blip in the collective consciousness. And Gladiator? Short-lived arthouse flick! HBO’s Rome? Least popular TV show ever.
If they were even aware of the similarities, I’m sure they figured only a handful of fanatical movie-lovers like myself would have seen them all and be capable of putting the pieces together and recognizing the guiding forces behind Spartacus: Hairy and Greasy.
(Perhaps the most horrifying postscript to my annoyance is that Spartacus: Been There and Done That has already been renewed for a Season 2 based on how “ground-breaking” and “original” it is. Yikes.)
This isn’t to say that certain tried-and-true plots can’t work again and again. I love to tell the story of the bus driver who told me to rethink my life as a writer because “all the stories have been told,” both because it’s funny and because it’s sort of true. You’d be hard-pressed to find a story (or movie, or TV show) that wasn’t some kind of variant of any other. But that doesn’t mean there’s a lack of entirely watchable/readable stuff out there; it’s the way the story is told that separates it from the next, makes it new and exciting.
In the case of Spartacus: Long Togas and Man Bikinis, however, there’s little to nothing that sets it apart from its predecessors. Instead, it takes what Rome did (period costumes and sets, political intrigue, living history), what 300 did (slow-mo blood spatter, comic book styling) and what Gladiator did (uh…gladiators) and does it worse. Much worse. Much, much worse. Even the supposedly on-location filming (in New Zealand, of course) looks shoddy and fake, like the trees and rocks are just painted on a sheet and strung in front of a camera.
Even the copious amount of cunnilingus – if two instances can be called “copious” – fails to thrill me. Look, Spartacus: Shits and Giggles, I know you’re only doing it so the ladiez will think you’re pushing boundaries of TV sexuality (yaaaaaaawn), but let’s be real. Nobody’s fooled. Besides, porn has cornered that market – with better writing and more authentic sets.
I didn’t expect cinematic genius from this show, but I thought it would at least be terrible in a fun way. Instead it’s terrible in a way that makes me wish I’d chosen to spend that hour doing something else, like watching Gladiator. Or writing a TV script, since it looks like any hack with a DVD player can pull it off.