Wednesday, 24 April 2013

The guilty pleasure of Plebs

I confess that I'm not much of a fan of modern comedy shows.  Programmes like Big Bang Theory and The Inbetweeners leave me cold, and don't even get me started on such hideous travesties like Mighty Boosh, Shameless or Lee Nelson.  No, leave me alone with an old episode of Blackadder or Red Dwarf and I'm much happier.

Which is why I pretty much ignored Plebs when it started a few weeks ago.  Despite being set in ancient Rome, I fully expected it to be an absolute mess which was nothing but an insult to its time period and left it well alone.  However...

Since finally succumbing to boredom one evening and watching it, and subsequently watching all 6 episodes of the first series, I have to admit that I've rather enjoyed it.  Although clearly and deliberately anachronistic, the writers do seem to have a decent knowledge of ancient Rome and have made the time period work to their advantage, playing with ancient culture to good effect.  I mean, how many other comedy shows manage to squeeze in gags about the ritual castration of the priests of Cybele?

Granted, some episodes strayed away from accuracy a little, most notably in the final episode when the festival of Saturnalia somehow became New Year. Otherwise, the idea that all five main characters are all relative newcomers to Rome and struggle to some extent to fit in with the local customs is a good vehicle to laugh along with some of the elements of Roman life that now seem strange to a modern audience.  This means that, for example, gladiatorial combat can be shown as being followed football-like by fans and Claudia can even assume that its all a theatrical show and nobody actually dies.

Another element I liked was the master / slave relationship.  Although deadpan slave Grumio is easily the best character, the fact that the two freeborn citizens Marcus and Stylax live with their slave almost as an equal may not be too far from reality. For a small Roman family group with a single slave, there is every chance that the slave would have been very much part of the group dynamic.

Looking at other reviews online, there does seem to have been a rather unusual phenomenon - mainstream comedy reviewers have been lukewarm about the series, but archaeologists and classicists have been rather fond of it.  Surely that's a first for a series like this?  I certainly hope that it has been well enough received for a second series.

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