The following is by JEANNE JAKLE San Antonio Express-News, also printed in The Houston Chronicle and available at the paper's website.
Spartacus enters new-series arena
Spartacus: Blood and Sand is easily the raciest of TV's midseason entries -- if only for the copious amounts of blood splashing on screen.
However, all that red stuff is only part of the TV spectacle that is Spartacus. The new Starz series, which premieres at 9 p.m. Jan. 22, is from a producing team that includes Spider-Man director Sam Raimi. It's packed with action, interesting characters, ripped physiques and strong drama.
This is a cast of striking unknowns -- a standout being the magnificently buff Andy Whitfield, who plays the title role -- as well as more seasoned names such as Lucy Lawless (Xena: Warrior Princess) and John Hannah (The Mummy).
Spartacus pushes the envelope big time when it comes to violence, sexuality, nudity and language.
"Put the kids to bed, lock the door, pull down the shades because you ain't seen nothing like this," Bill Hamm, Starz vice president for creative development, said at the Spartacus press session.
He's right. The way Raimi, fellow executive producer Rob Tapert and head writer Steven S. DeKnight tell it, the story of the legendary slave is worlds apart from the Spartacus Kirk Douglas and Stanley Kubrick gave us. Because of the heavy use of digital technology, it has the feel of a graphic novel.
Though the fight scenes are full of mayhem, they're presented in such a hyper-realistic style -- think Zack Snyder's 300 -- that they register as more entertaining than upsetting.
"We didn't want to do horror," said Tapert, a longtime collaborator with Raimi on everything from Xena to The Evil Dead. "We wanted to show gladiators battling in the arena. We wanted to bring some of the technological tools that are available to heighten action and utilize those. And as a byproduct of it, blood was spilled in a way that it was different to give it more of a balletic feel."
Spartacus also is enriched by a story that builds addictively. It tells of Rome's most infamous rebel, who's torn from his homeland and the woman he loves and condemned to the brutal arena.
"I was fascinated by it because Spartacus is this legendary character who goes through this tremendous transformation of a slave," Raimi said. "He's somebody who has been captured and forced to fight for his life and probably died a very unexpected leader of people."
If you're wondering whether women have a place amid all this testosterone, consider the scene-stealing Lawless as Lucretia, a kind of Lady Macbeth to her husband (Hannah).
He may be the monarch of the gladiator school, but she's the power behind the throne.
"The role is just a knockout. I'm so grateful to them for writing such brilliant women's relationships," Lawless said. "It's terribly deadly and very subtle."
Starz has such faith in the series, in fact, that it already has green-lighted Spartacus for a second season. Writer DeKnight (Smallville) revealed that Spartacus will go from leading a revolt to becoming a top gladiator to finally getting back to his original mission.
Though the show is very visceral, it also succeeds as a strong character piece.
is a show that has action, has blood, has sex, has all of those
components that you don't get on network television," Taper said, "but
all of that is just the initial wave from which behind really good
drama is awaiting."