Starz’s surprise sword-and-sandals hit returns with a six-episode prequel this Friday night. Spartacus: Gods of the Arena follows the rise of a self-destructive gladiator in the early years of a struggling ludus, before the titular slave’s arrival.
The first season of Spartacus got off to a shaky start. But once I got past the ridiculous pilot, the mysterious abundance of fake breasts in 73 BC, and the Zack Snyder-lite camerawork, Spartacus became a great guilty pleasure. This is not HBO’s Rome. This is more Conan. Just keep saying that to yourself and you can enjoy the scenery chewing and genuinely surprising intrigues. Somewhere along the way, the cast just starts to gel and characters become less cartoonish. None more so than Batiatus and his wife Lucretia, the corrupt masters of the house. John Hannah (remember him from Four Weddings and Funeral? You won’t after this) and a frequently nude Lucy Lawless seem to relish every bit of scheming, social climbing, and bed-hopping. They are worthy additions to TV’s pantheon of villains you actually like, despite yourself. Returning to the House of Batiatus is a welcome way to kill—very messily and in slow-motion— time before the second season properly returns.
As has been reported, just as shooting on the second season was getting ready to begin anew, star Andy Whitfield’s cancer returned and he stepped down so the role of Spartacus could be recast. Which sucks all around. Andy did a fine job and made the role of Spartacus his. I’ll miss the chemistry he had with the other actors. But mostly I feel bad that something like this happened to an actor just as he was enjoying some success.
And I don’t envy the new guy, Liam McIntyre. It’s not easy stepping into someone else’s sandals.
But in the meantime we get to see some familiar faces (and other parts) with new additions including every Dexter fan’s favorite pyromaniac, Jaime Murray, and Dustin Clare as upstart gladiator Gannicus. Starz original programming may not have the pedigree of HBO, but between this series and the forthcoming Camelot and airing of Torchwood, I’m excited for some new and uncensored genre television.
Spartacus: Gods of the Arena airs Fridays at 10PM ET/PT on Starz
Theresa DeLucci is a graduate of the 2008 Clarion West Writers’ Workshop. Her short fiction has appeared in Chizine, Morbid Outlook, and Tear magazine.