A Thracian man is condemned to a brutal death in the arena, only to outlast his executioners and be reborn as the enslaved gladiator Spartacus.
In the interest of avoiding 2,100-year-old spoilers, I’ll keep this vague. As punishment for defying the Roman Republic, an unnamed Thracian man has been condemned to death in the gladiator arena. Only, he evades execution and is sold to a ludus, or gladiator school, where his journey as the legendary gladiator Spartacus begins.
Andy Whitfield and Liam McIntyre as Spartacus
The tale of the two Spartacuses is a tragic one. Andy Whitfield dropped out after the first season to undergo treatment for non-Hodgkin lymphoma, which ultimately ended his life. The role was recast with Liam McIntyre (Weather Wizard, The Flash), who had the unenviable task of following Whitfield’s performance. As unfortunate as the circumstances are, both portrayals are great in their own regards: Whitfield’s quiet fury and McIntyre’s calm confidence are well suited to Spartacus during those stages of his life.
John Hannah as Batiatus
I had only known John Hannah as Uncle Jonathan from The Mummy movies, so this was quite the departure. This ambitious but beleaguered gladiator owner can be a lovable scamp in his own way, and he can DEFINITELY teach you plenty of creative phallic profanities.
Lucy Lawless as Lucretia
More like Lucy FLAWLESS, amirite? A loving and devoted wife, Lucretia has no shortage of schemes to elevate her and Batiatus’ place in Roman society.
Manu Bennett as Crixus
Peter Mensah as Doctore
Peter already contributed to an iconic swords-and-sandals moment, but he really gets to shine as the honourable Doctore, or gladiator trainer, of the ludus. Peter Mensah needs to be cast as the stern but fair British dad in EVERYTHING.
Jai Courtney as Varro
I know Jai Courtney’s been in a bunch of action movies (e.g., the Divergent adaptations), but I now forever associate him with our pals at Birth.Movies.Death. Anyway, the good-natured Varro becomes fast friends with Spartacus at the ludus. Although his cherubic hairstyle paired with the gladiators’ diaper-like bottoms gives him the aesthetic of a jacked-up Cupid.
Eka Darville as Pietros
There are actually SO MANY CHARACTERS that I love, hate, or love to hate that I could talk about, incl. more Arrow alumni. But that way lies spoilers territory, because I have FEELINGS.
Couch-Sharing Capability: Sausage Fest
When Spartacus first debuted, it quickly gained a rep for its excessive violence and nudity. Which is not unearned — some scenes are difficult to watch, even for someone not particularly squeamish like me; and this show absolutely does not shy away from the peen (or female T&A) — but that’s not all there is to it, either. This isn’t going to be everybody’s cup of tea, esp. with its stylized violence and pseudo-Latin/Shakespearean fusion dialogue, but finding a viewing buddy means having much-wanted instant freak-outs whenever the plot gets OFF THE RAILS in an awesome, entertaining way. Or you can just direct your blood-curdling screams and high-pitched whines at the TV, like I did.
Recommended Level of Inebriation: Indulge As Necessary
The first few episodes are notoriously rough, as the show took some time to find its footing. But if you make it past that and you’re still into it, you’ll only need to ply yourself with honeyed wine (aka the choice of drank in Ancient Rome) during the gory, gruesome bits.
Use of Your Streaming Subscription: Epic
Despite a bumpy start that didn’t exactly assuage concerns of it being a 300 rip-off, Spartacus eventually evolves into bold, gripping storytelling with compelling and diverse characters. Plus, at an action-packed 39 episodes in which anything can truly happen, it’s a small, worthwhile commitment for some mighty fine television.