Thursday, May 27, 2010

Honking Box Review: Spartacus: Blood & Sand

The term "so bad it's good" is bandied about far too freely these days. It's term often used to excuse shows which are terminally uncool to like by those ashamed to like them. Still, you occasionally come across a show so unbelievably atrocious from the outset, it's fan-frickin-tastic, such as Bonekickers or the legendary Sunset Beach. And from time to time, you come across a show which leaves you wondering whether it's a benchmark in so-bad-it's-good ironic brilliance, or a disastrous attempt at serious, groundbreaking drama.

One such example is Spartacus: Blood & Sand, a US-produced retelling of the titular legend's battles. Made by cable network Starz – a sort of poor man’s HBO apparently, and previously boasting an exclamation mark at the end of its name – you get some idea of the production values early on. But it’s the content within which truly cements the absolute sparkling awfulness.

Where Krod Mandoon and the Flaming Sword of Fire takes the idiosyncracies of fantasy epics and creates an affectionate parody from them, Spartacus tears the entire genre a gaping new arsehole, inadvertedly spoofing to a level that makes the likes of the Scary/Date/Epic Movie franchise look like subtle, intellectual satire.

The tidal waves of blood (literally - tidal waves) that saturate every fight scene provide an amount of claret and gore which, on paper, would invoke squeamishness in the hardiest of viewers. Yet the absurd cartoonish indulgence quickly underlines that while the overall concept of the show truly stomach-turning, the blood 'n' guts aspect is most certainly not. Spartacus: Blood & Sand is effectively a live-action Itchy & Scratchy.

Meanwhile, the soft-focus sex scenes, which seem to clumsily pepper the narrative with all the subtlety of a foghorn and all the relevance of a Pixie Lott-branded chocolate kettle, make the series look less like Red Shoe Diaries with a bigger budget. But even then, we're only talking a few extra dollars - Spartacus abuses the concept of green-screen beyond comprehension, featuring CGI worthy of Series 2 Knightmare, with the quality of dialogue not far off either.

In fact, the scripts go to the greatest lengths possible to match the tone set by the sex and violence, with more shoehorned-in swear words than an entire series of late-night Hollyoaks. But this provides some of the funniest moments in Spartacus, with "in-bred shit-whores" a particular highlight from the first episode.

And that’s, bizarrely, what makes Spartacus: Blood & Sand work. The darker, the coarser and the grittier it goes, the more hilarious it actually gets. Further inspection will prove interesting, as it’s hard to see where the series can go from such a preposterous introduction. And whether it’s a knowingly-dreadful work of comedy genius is still undetermined, but regardless, it makes for something highly watchable, even if most of that is through your fingers. A thoroughly-entertaining pile of shit.

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