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May 8, 2011

Gods of the Arena




More Women of Spartacus: Marisa Ramirez and Jessica Grace Smith

The recently ended “Golden Week” run of early spring holidays afforded me an opportunity for long-postponed self-abusive behaviors, among which was the viewing of the six episodes of Spartacus: Gods of the Arena. And if you don’t think that a way overlong and tit-centric critique is about to unfurl, you don’t know me. After a Synopsis, I will evaluate Gods of the Arena in terms of its Plot, Acting, Gratuitous Violence, and, of course, Tits.


Synopsis
When last we left Spartacus: Blood and Sand, the slave uprising had been put on hold while star Andy Whitfield fought a serious illness. So instead of a full-blown Season Two, producers decided to tease out some flashback scenes planned for the new season and inflate them into a six-part miniseries set in the House of Batiatus in the city of Capua just prior to the arrival of Spartacus.

The total absence of its mirthless titular character notwithstanding, Spartacus: Gods of the Arena does not fail to deliver the goods that drew so many lonely middle-aged fanboys like me to Blood and Sand. On the Blood side of the ledger, we get two throat-slittings, a nifty half-decapitation, and a good old-fashioned gangland stomping. For those of us more attuned to the cuddlier pleasures of the House of Batiatus, Gods of the Arena offers a festive threesome, an interracial scene, a lesbian scene, a masturbation scene, and just for the heck of it, not one but two instances of tender intra-marital coitus. We peruse no fewer than ten tits belonging to credited actresses and somewhere between five and fifteen random Arena Tits, depending on how skillfully the viewer can freeze-frame. And all that’s just Episode One! I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Jupiter’s nutsack be praised!


Plot
The problem with prequels is that they can’t help telegraphing the fate of their characters. We know from the get-go that nothing too awful will befall that fun-loving couple Batiatus and Lucretia (John Hannah and Lucy Lawless), trainer Oenomaus (Peter Mensah), raw recruit Crixus (Manu Bennett), or petite slave girl Naevia (Lesley-Ann Brandt). At the same time, Gods of the Arena showcases three delightful new female characters—Oenomaus’s wife Melitta (Marisa Ramirez), Naevia’s naïve fellow slave girl Diona (Jessica Grace Smith), and Lucretia’s sexually adventurous gal-pal Gaia (Jaime Murray)—none of whom are around for the chronologically later Blood and Sand. The question, then, is not whether these characters will meet grisly ends, but how many times we will get to see them naked beforehand. (Answer: from three to five times each.)

The central character of the series, the gladiator Gannicus (Dustin Clare), seems slated for a similar fate, but not so. (I suppose it’s a bit late now to cry “Spoiler Alert!” but there it is.) Anyway, here’s all you need to know about the storylines.

  • Batiatus attracts the interest of the thugs who run Capua by virtue of the superb gladiators he has brought to his ludus: Gannicus and, later, the untamed and ungroomed Crixus.
  • Batiatus and his wife then rise to the middling social position in which we meet them in Blood and Sand by first sucking up to and then threatening or killing all the betters and elders who stand in their way—including Batiatus’s father.
  • Good Solonius helps the couple with their schemes until a careless slur by Batiatus spurs him to betray his friend. In retaliation, Batiatus recruits Jane Lynch to pop in and fling hilarious deadpan insults at good Solonius’s ludicrous hair. No, no, sorry—that is merely something much wished for.
  • A dimwitted nobleman orders Gannicus to have sex with Oenomaus’s wife Melitta for his entertainment (and ours). Both experience heavy guilt thereafter, though personally, I was fine with it.
  • Ashur (Nick Tarabay) acts as translator for a fellow gladiator-in-training who happens to be his countryman. The friends later have a falling out after a zany mix-up that ends with Ashur’s erstwhile buddy getting cornholed by a patrician nincompoop. The viewer can perhaps relate to the man’s displeasure. I mean, don’t you just hate it when a careless translation error leads to your being buttfucked and ejaculated into by a stranger? It sort of sets a tone for the whole day, if you know what I mean.
  • A battle royal near the end of the final episode proves an effective if crude instrument for culling all actors who don’t appear in Blood and Sand except for...
  • …Gannicus, who wins the battle royal and subsequently his freedom. Presumably he will hole up somewhere keeping his abs toned until he can hook up with Spartacus and Crixus for Season Three. Or Season Two and a Half. Or whatever they’re going to call it.


On the whole, the writers did a creditable job concocting suspenseful plotlines, given the limitations inherent to a prequel. Personally, I found the mounting tension between Batiatus père et fils increasingly tedious, perhaps because of the huge wet blanket that the dour father threw onto the party every time he put in an appearance. “Crap, nobody’s getting naked while this blister is around,” one couldn’t help thinking.

But the machinations among the gladiators and those between Mr. and Mrs. Batiatus and their social betters were always engaging. And the writers found nimble ways of sewing the sex scenes seamlessly into the plot fabric so that they never felt gratuitous, making life much simpler for the show’s large masturbating demographic. I give the plot four boners on a scale of five.


Acting
I know I’m dating myself, but does anyone else remember the quirky pattern to the casting of Roots back in the Seventies? It seemed as if every beloved father figure in American television at the time insisted on showing his range and his liberal bona fides by portraying an odious white person; and so it was that Pa Walton and Lou Grant shanghaied Kunta Kinte from Africa to colonial America, where he was purchased by Ben Cartwright and later passed along to Mr. Brady.

Something similar seems to be in play when it comes to casting the assorted ninnies and reptiles that make up the Roman patrician class of Spartacus. One gets the feeling that all the classically trained actors in Britain and Australia are clambering over one another for a shot at these small but meaty roles. Stephen Lovatt as Tullius, David E. Woodley as Petronius and Peter Feeney as Quintilius Varis have a jolly old time inspecting and jagging off to the amenities of the House of Batiatus, but for my money it is Jason Hood as good Cossutius who snags the Chuck Connors Memorial Award for the portrayal of a degenerate slave abuser that rings a little bit too true for comfort.

As Batiatus, a character sympathetic only in that he is marginally less abusive than his enemies, John Hannah does yeoman’s work and is well-paid for it in wine and tits. He also sports a surprisingly good butt for someone whose previous claim to fame was as second banana to Brendan Fraser.

The gladiators and slaves were, in my view, credibly portrayed. It must be hard to find in such large volume actors possessed of both fabulous abs (or tits) and the ability to snake their musclebound tongues around lines like “I would suffer a lifetime but to have the chance to strike!” I give the acting four boners as well.

Gratuitous Violence
I can’t speak from personal experience on this, but it appears that there are only so many ways that one can thrust a heavy, flat sword through another man’s helmeted head. It’s always going to make that same dreadful scraping-the-blackboard sound, and the damned brain matter is going to spurt out in more or less the same kaleidoscopic pattern every time. In short, what seemed fresh and pulse-quickening in Blood and Sand has gotten to be old hat.

There is nothing in Gods of the Arena to keep one wide awake past one’s bedtime in the manner of those episodes of Blood and Sand when Spartacus was banished to “the pits,” a garish cross between a Fight Club chapter and a Michael Vick dogfighting operation. I speak primarily of the scarred combatant at the pits who sliced off his defeated but still living opponent’s entire face and then proceeded to wear it--a fate that, if you think about it, makes being anally ejaculated into by a patrician nincompoop seem a consummation devoutly to be wished, all things else being equal.

The violence in Gods of the Arena remains as gratuitous as ever, but is no longer as giddily creative as it was in days of yore. Two boners.


Tits
Gods of the Arena addresses a lot of questions posed by the earlier series—How did Solonius and Batiatus become mortal enemies? What’s up with Ashur’s bad leg and why can’t the other gladiators stand him? And how did Crixus end up with Howie Long’s haircut?—while leaving unanswered the much more pressing question: What exactly does Licinia (Brooke Harmon) look like naked?

Licinia was the only Blood and Sand character who teased male viewers with the likelihood of a nude scene only to die violently before she could deliver. It was the ruthless Ilithya (Viva Bianca) who offed her beauteous frenemy in the Roman version of a curb-stompin’, thus cementing her status as the most cold-blooded and ruthless TV villainess since the heyday of Martha Stewart. The decision to create this prequel to Blood and Sand seemed a providential way for producers to right this horrible wrong. But Gods of the Arena predates Lucretia’s connection to the patrician women of the capital, so it would have been a bit of a stretch. Viva’s and Brooke’s serviceable acting and delicious wickedness were sorely missed, though not quite as much as their tits.

That said, Lucy Lawless’s formidable pair wobble back into frame on numerous occasions and never fail to induce shrieks of ecstasy in this house. We all thought we had savored our last gander at them when her character was slaughtered along with half the population of Capua at the end of last season. Also returning, if only fleetingly, are the tits of Lesley-Ann Brandt. Her tits are like groundhogs in February—shy, rarely glimpsed, but always welcome.*

It is thus left to the aforementioned doomed newcomers to dole out most of the nudity. Among the tits of Marisa Ramirez, Jessica Grace Smith, and Jaime Murray, it is simply too hard to select a favorite set. Each possesses unique charms all its own. For overall stimulating effect, though, I suppose I would cast my lot with Marisa's.

It simply wouldn’t do to close out this section without a shout-out to that Spartacus trademark, Arena Tits. Alas, after a promising first episode, Arena Tits were few and far between compared to last season. I suspect budget cuts. Whatever the reason, I am forced to give Gods of the Arena three puny, patrician boners here.


Final Score
Okay, so the quantity and quality of both tits and gratuitous violence slumped a bit in Gods of the Arena. The viewer still got more of both in any single episode of this miniseries than one could expect from an entire decade of, say, Ugly Betty, a show that would have profited significantly from a few decapitations.

Word on the street is that the postponed new season of Blood and Sand will begin airing later this year with a whole new Spartacus replacing the still ailing Andy Whitfield. Our prayers are with Andy.

Overall rating for Gods of the Arena: 3.5 boners out of Five.





* Alas, series creator Steven DeKnight has revealed that neither the actress nor her tits will return for the next season, foretelling a long winter indeed.