Thursday 24 May 2018

Slaves get a bum rap on TV

Spartacus: Vengeance Monday, TV3 Gok's Teens Tuesday, Channel 4 In Bed with the Irish Monday, RTE1

The stars of Roman slave-revolt drama Spartacus: Vengeance the follow-up to Spartacus: Blood and Sand employ an acting technique which is all about the buttocks. We get to see their buttocks an awful lot.

In fact, there's so much bare flesh on display in any episode of Spartacus, it should really just be called Arse-acus. And any of the characters could plausibly assert "I am Arse-acus!" and expect the response: "Yes, we can see that."

So while Arse-acus himself (Liam McIntyre) has a square-jawed face as impassive as a scowly slab of granite, he has the expressive method-acting buttocks of a young Daniel Day Lewis. His bromantic partner and sometime frenemy, Crixus (Manu Bennett), with whom he's now leading a buttock-themed slave uprising, has the melodramatic arse of a burgeoning Steven Berkoff.

Then there's evil baddie Gaius who has the scenery-chewing hind-quarters of a mid-career William Shatner (tip for future -- Gaius's nefarious buttocks should wear a monocle . . . and smoke a cigarette).


Anyway, leading a slave rebellion is hard work. It involves making pompous declarations while flexing one's pecs and standing legs akimbo in a pair of gladiatorial underpants (normal underpants held aloft by a belt) and Ugg boots.

And it involves soft-focus sex romps and phallocentric sword fights in which limbs are hacked and eyes are gouged (this happened in the first scene this week, lest you thought you were watching Cranford).

Elsewhere a man is gratuitously whipped, another hacks a hunk of his own arm off to make a point and the Roman baddies (including the always brilliant Lucy Lawless) plot and scheme.

The Roman characters are notable for wearing clothes some of the time, talking in hushed conspiratorial olden-times language (no contractions), and resorting to a strange form of acting involving the eyes, face and lips.

In general though, while other period dramas are twee frock-filled nostalgia fests, Spartacus goes out of its way to impress teenage boys with sex, gore, curse-words and CGI. This week as our heroes seek a lost slave-girl in a terrifying Roman-run mine, the ultra-violent plot is, as usual, devoid of irony and humour.

Yet, for all its po-faced silliness it's strangely compelling (possibly because of its po-faced silliness). I like to think that this is because it has awakened in me a fascination with the classical world.

If I went to the shops in gladiator underpants, make-over guru Gok Wan would applaud my bravery and individuality. Gok's Teens is an ongoing attempt to tackle unrealistic body expectations (in part created by shows such as Spartacus) and to encourage self-esteem among UK teens.

While I'm sceptical about solving society's problems, not with a strong public service, but through the largesse of celebrity chefs, nannies, shopping tsars and fashionistas, Gok's chats with vulnerable teens are so heart-felt it's hard not to be moved.


This week he encouraged terrified, once-bullied Kyle to get over his fear of strangers, and he helped twins Kate and Grace to become less dependent on one another.

Gok's a very sensitive interviewer. He constantly confers with psychotherapists and experts, the teens are never patronised and the tone is very carefully judged.

In Bed with the Irish was similarly unsensational. It featured couples of all ages sitting in bed talking about courtship, sleep, co-habitation and sex. Such openness doesn't come easily to the Irish, a race Victorian naturalists believed to be a form of asexual passive-aggressive plant (alcohol, they said, caused us to release spores into the atmosphere).

Indeed, my own post-Catholic hang-ups had me dismissing the programme as exhibitionist gimmickry before I'd even seen it. But then I found all the honesty and awkwardly expressed intimacy, annoyance, lust and love quite affecting.

It was, it turned out, a moving tribute to everyday monogamy . . . and not a buttock to be seen.

Spartacus: Vengeance HHIII

Gok's Teens HHHHI

In Bed with the Irish HHHHI

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