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Archive for Friday, January 22, 2010

‘Spartacus’ explicit with sex, violence

January 22, 2010

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The two-hour “Hope for Haiti” (7 p.m., CBS, NBC, Fox, ABC, CW, CNN, BET, HBO, MTV, VH1 and CMT) telethon will raise funds for disaster relief. Note: The roster of talent and the number of participating networks is still evolving and subject to change.

• Viewers who like their violence over the top, their sex scenes explicit and their nudity full-frontal should enjoy “Spartacus: Blood and Sand” (9 p.m., Starz). This bread-and-circus epic owes more to “Gladiator” and “300” than its movie namesake.

The British-born Australian actor Andy Whitfield (“McLeod’s Daughters”) stars in the title role. He’s a noble soldier from Thrace who lands in hot water after leading his men in a rebellion against their fickle Roman allies. Like Russell Crowe’s character in “Gladiator,” he’s a manly man handy with the sword and deeply in love with the woman from whom he has been separated. And every time he thinks of her, the camera work gets gauzy and the music New-Agey.

There’s nothing sensitive about the fight scenes. Every blow from a fist, ax, sword, spear or trident comes with comic book (or graphic novel) splatter. The first instance is jarring, but repetition renders the effect nearly ridiculous, like the word bubbles “POW!” and “ZAP!” of the campy 1960s “Batman” series.

Decapitations, throat slashing and the severing of limbs unfold in grisly slow motion. It would be easy to dismiss this as the pornography of violence if there weren’t so much sex and nudity going on as well. The series’ tag line should be, “Come for the hard-core violence. Stay for the soft-core porn!”

Look for Lucy Lawless (“Xena”) late in the third act of tonight’s premiere. She’s Lucretia, the wife of Batiatus (John Hannah, “Four Weddings and a Funeral”), who, along with her hubby, comes to own Spartacus and hopes he’s just the ticket for their down-on-its-heels gladiator camp. The purist couple looks down on nouveau-riche Romans who have somehow cheapened the sport. At least they didn’t have to deal with human growth hormone.

Impressively produced by a team including Sam Raimi (“Spider-Man”), this “Spartacus” is more about action and gore than metaphor or message. “Gladiator” had a lot to say about the politics of spectacle (or the spectacle of politics), circa 100 AD and 2000 AD. “Spartacus: Blood and Sand” seems squarely aimed at a certain view of the male libido, circa 2010.

• A more nuanced and allegorical series arrives with “Caprica” (8 p.m., Syfy), a prequel to the recently departed “Battlestar Galactica.” Eric Stoltz stars as Daniel Graystone, a Bill Gates-like computer tycoon who makes the most of his connections and know-how after his rebellious daughter Zoe (Alessandra Torresani) is killed in a terrorist attack.

He discovers that Zoe was more of a chip off the block than he suspected, and that she had created a fully realized duplicate of herself in a virtual reality world. Driven by the desire to be with Zoe again, he tries to meld her duplicate (or avatar, if you will) with advanced robotics, inadvertently creating the race of Cylons who would become the villains (or were they the heroes?) of the “Battlestar” saga.

Tonight’s other highlight

• Jack Lemmon and Sandy Dennis star as visiting Midwesterners buffeted by the chaos and filth of New York in the 1970 comedy “The Out of Towners” (7:30 p.m., TCM).

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