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On Rome

March 28, 2007

It’s over.  After two seasons, HBO’s Rome has drawn to its conclusion.

Looking back over the short-lived series – just twenty two episodes in all – I find myself of two minds.  On the one hand, Rome could at times rise to levels of brilliance rarely seen on television.  On the other, it played maddeningly fast and loose with a well-established history far more dramatic than the soap opera wranglings it seemed to prefer.

Let’s start with the good, shall we?

Ep22_04Atmospheric Accuracy – While Rome was far from historically accurate, I believe it nailed the atmosphere of the Late Republic far better than any previous attempt.  Its depiction of Rome was not of white, austere buildings and togas as far as the eye could see.  Rather, it showed the city as it was, gritty and colorful and cramped and filthy, with enclaves of vast wealth amid a broader swath of squalor. 

This accuracy extended beyond Rome, as well, to the provinces, to the legions, to the fighting practices of the day.  Even if the production values rarely expanded enough to incorporate full-scale, epic battles, the brief scenes given were accurate with respect to tactics, to the way the lines met, to the way fresh legionnaires were rotated forward, etc.

Character Essences – The show’s casting and characterization of Cato still irks me.  Cato, after all, was younger than Caesar, still working his way up the political ladder when the Civil War erupted, so why cast him as so much older?

Beyond the glaring flaw that was Cato, however, Rome did a good job capturing the essences of the major players of the era, from Caesar and Octavian to Mark Antony and my personal favorite, Cicero.  David Bamber’s portrayal of history’s most famous orator is spot on, and every time he was on screen I found myself wishing the producers and writers had taken a more accurate tack with respect to the history, if only to see him play the character to its full potential.

Marcus Agrippa – One of my favorite personalities from the Roman world, Augustus’ right hand, who later in life would have absolute power within his grasp, but who never once moved to sieze it.  Allan Leech portrayed him wonderfully, as an honest man, one of the few on the show with anything resembling a conscience.

Now, to my issues with the series…

Rush In, Rush OutRome pushed through events way too quickly.  The series began in 52 B.C. with Caesar’s defeat of the Gauls at Alesia, and ended in 31 B.C. with Octavian’s triumph over Antony and Cleopatra.  That’s right, twenty-one years in twenty-two episodes.

Had they slowed the series down, they could have built and maintained far better dramatic tension, rather than having to overlay a series of soap opera affairs and doublecrosses (of which there are plenty to go around in the actual, real history anyway).

The Entire Vorenus Second-Season Storyline – The first few episodes were strong, but after that the events at the Aventine Collegium completely lost my interest.

Octavian – I realize they had to shift actors for the Octavian role, as Max Perkis was too young to play the character into his early thirties.  But, next to him, Simon Woods may as well have been a sheet of plywood.  There is something calculating and mechanical about Octavian, I’ll grant, but that doesn’t mean he has to be played as a cyborg.

Overall, despite my misgivings, I am happy that HBO went forward with Rome.  It was certainly an experience.  Though, of the two finales that aired this past Sunday, I must admit I was far more engaged by Battlestar Galactica‘s third season finale than by Rome’s series finale.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. April 1, 2007 9:24 pm

    Not to sound to much like the nerd that I am, but did you start watching Battlestar Galactica yet. It has to be one of the best TV series ever produced!

  2. April 1, 2007 9:42 pm

    Yep, all the buzz got me intrigued, so I picked up the miniseries back around Thanksgiving. Got caught up just in time for the 3rd season finale.

    Definitely an amazing show. Anyone who turns their nose up at it because it’s sci-fi or happens to take place in space doesn’t know what they’re missing.

  3. April 4, 2007 12:38 pm

    I still have a few episodes to go. I can’t wait – some of the charcters have definitley gone through major transformations – I liked “Fat Apollo”!

  4. April 4, 2007 1:59 pm

    Well, I’ll be sure not to spoil it for you then. All I can say is, “there must be some way out of here”…

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