Rock/pop Clubs by Night
Rock/Pop Club Directory
Rock/Pop Bands in Town
Jazz Clubs by Night
Jazz Club Directory
Jazz Bands in Town
Time to face facts: HBO owns me.
It's a realization I came to about a year and a half ago as I sat on my girlfriend's couch almost — almost — shedding a tear for Carrie Bradshaw. That should have been the end to a string of wasted wintry Sunday nights. And it would have had my clicker finger been quicker.
But the TV stayed on, and I sat transfixed as previews flashed in front of my wide eyes. Before I knew it, seasons were flashing by outside the window, the only constant being me, anchored to the sofa every Sunday, watching whatever piece of immaculately acted and beautifully filmed melodrama Home Box Office chose to put in front of me. The Sopranos turned to Carnivàle turned to Deadwood, and I was powerless to stop it. The trademark static tone that announces the opening of each HBO series episode doubled as the death rattle of my social life, a new season of one show starting just as its predecessor ended.
Finally this fall, with Six Feet Under going under for good and The Wire still months away, I thought I was safe. I was ready to rise up against my oppressor and break the shackles that bound my legs to the ottoman! Then came Rome.
Set in 52 BC, Rome (premieres this Sunday, August 28, at 9pm) is far and away the most lavish and complex show on a network known for its lavish and complex shows. Perhaps that’s because the BBC is co-producing. The cast is large and uniformly Roman-looking (you’ll need a family tree just to keep up); the tangled story line is woven from bits of ancient history. Roman legionnaires Titus Pullo and Lucius Vorenus are a regular Odd Couple, with Titus playing oafish Oscar to Lucius’s straitlaced Felix. Except that Titus is an alcoholic womanizer and Lucius hasn’t seen his family in the eight years since he joined the army. The two form an unlikely bond early on when they’re given an "errand" from Julius Caesar that turns out to be a wild-goose chase. From there, the pair find themselves in the middle of some of Rome’s most important events.
One problem for any historical drama is that the audience may already know what’s going to happen. And just about everyone does know that Caesar, who in 52 BC is in the midst of subjugating Gaul, will go on to defeat Pompey and shack up with Cleopatra before falling afoul of the Ides of March. By adding Titus and Lucius — whose real-life stories are relatively undocumented — as well as the families and lovers surrounding the better-known characters, Rome ensures that there’ll be some surprises, even for those sitting in front of the TV with their history books open. And discerning viewers will be pleasantly surprised at the obsessive attention to detail. ABC’s summer mini-series Empire, which followed the fortunes of Caesar’s nephew Octavius, was panned for its lack of realism and its timeline flaws. No such complaints can be leveled against Rome. Senate debates between the likes of Cato and Pompey are straight out of Livy’s histories, even if they’re delivered in English. That’s one problem you might have with Rome: though it would hardly do to have the actors orate in Latin with subtitles, the show’s contemporary English is jarring. Or is that the aftereffect of all those stuffy translations of Homer and Virgil?
Almost forgot: this being cable, HBO showcases ancient Rome’s well-documented lust for . . . well, lust. Although plentiful, the sex scenes aren’t excessive, especially since most of them are fueled more by politics than by desire. The battle scenes likewise are murky and unglamorous and not excessively gory. The sacrificial bull bleeding in one episode is another matter, but, hey, real is real.
If Rome doesn’t slake your thirst for blood, just flip over to FX, another network known for its addictive, if dumbed-down, dramas. Steven Bochco’s Over There (Wednesdays at 10pm) is as violent as anything on TV, but not without reason. The show, which follows a fictional unit of soldiers fighting in Iraq, aims to horrify rather than impress. In an early episode, an Army troop levels a rocket launcher at an Iraqi insurgent and blows his torso to pieces. Time to move along to the next digit in the body count? Nope — Over There prolongs the agony, showing the deceased’s autonomous legs taking their final steps in sickening slow motion as the US soldiers look on in shock.
That scene might lead you to think that Over There beats you over the head with anti-war messages. In fact, there’s humanity as well as violence, and the unit members are a step up from simpletons and supersoldiers. Frank Dumphy enrolled after graduating from Cornell, thus earning himself the nickname "Dim"; former high-school football player Bo Rider is trying to get Uncle Sam to pay his way through Texas A&M. Despite the camaraderie, not everybody gets along. Smoke, a black soldier with a chip on his shoulder, is skeptical of Arab-American Tariq until Tariq proves himself just as capable of killing an Iraqi as anyone else.
All the slaughter and the drama can be a bit overwhelming, and though there’s some comic relief, Over There’s redeeming element is its photography. For every night-vision shot of gun fighting or falling-bomb perspective, there’s a glorious tranquil view of the sandy Iraqi landscape. That’s why Over There has more in common with David O. Russell’s Gulf War film Three Kings than with M*A*S*H.
Issue Date: August 26 - September 1, 2005
Back to the Television table of contents
|© 2000 - 2013 Phoenix Media Communications Group|