The House of Batiatus has towered above the city of Capua for many years. Spartacus: Gods of the Arena will explore its deadly history before the arrival of Spartacus, and the death he carried with him. Loyalties will be tested, lives shattered, and battles waged in this thrilling prequel to Spartacus: Blood and Sand.
The title is misleading--there is no Spartacus to be found here--but little matter, as Gods of the Arena is a prime example of making lemonade from lemons. Faced with the unavailability of Andy Whitfield, star of Spartacus: Blood and Sand, due to a recurrence of cancer, the folks at Starz chose to go ahead without him and create a prequel, a resourceful way of buying some time until a new Spartacus could be found while employing several actors already under contract. The focus throughout these six episodes is on the house of Batiatus. It is there that gladiators hone their skills as they prepare for glory and/or death in the arena under the evil eye of Quintus Batiatus (John Hannah), whom Blood and Sand viewers will recognize as the principal villain of that series. The younger Batiatus, already blindly ambitious, wants to make his mark in the gladiator biz, aided by his sexy, scheming wife, Lucretia (Lucy Lawless), and her licentious friend Gaia (Jaime Murray)--and they have just the warrior to do it with in Gannicus (Dustin Clare), a preening stud described by one show exec as "Han Solo meets Achilles." There are, of course, numerous obstacles, ranging from Batiatus's own father to various rival gladiatorial operations. But really, who cares about plotting when a show has as much sex and violence, usually directly juxtaposed, as this one? True to the Blood and Sand precedent, every episode offers a steady parade of gratuitous, risibly over-the-top beheadings and other mayhem, much of it lovingly shot in slow motion, along with ample nudity (some of it full-frontal) and sex (all of it soft-core). With drugs, torture, and constant profanity also in the mix (who knew the ancient Romans dropped so many F-bombs?), this is definitely not a program for the young and impressionable. Nor is it one that's big on nuance; almost without exception, Batiatus and his ilk are depicted as frivolous, depraved, and conniving, while the gladiators and slaves are lowly but noble (not to mention as gloriously muscled and sweaty as your average Chippendales dancer). But this isn't a documentary--it's entertainment, and on that level, Gods of the Arena totally works. --Sam Graham