Spartacus is a guilty pleasure with compelling characters and surprising plot twists! Here is my brief review of the series:
Getting through the first episode was rather painful. It felt like a very cheap knockoff of 300 and Gladiator (the slow-motion shots, lousy green screen effects, etc). But if you tolerate the pilot, the show begins to find its own voice from episode 2.
I mentioned it was a guilty pleasure because it doesn't hold back on gore, violence, and sex. For some it might be even too much! But the show is more than just gore and violence. The characters (from Spartacus himself to Batiatus and Crassus) are written amazingly well; most of the choices they make, do make sense. I find this to be rare in the modern shows, especially the ones that are within the same genre as this show (e.g. Foggy Nelson on Daredevil or Laurel Lance on Arrow do really annoying/stupid things that defy every logic, just to push the plot forward).
Andy Whitfield was perfectly cast as Spartacus. He portrayed the pain, defiance, surrender, and eventual rise of the character with a delicate sense of poignancy. But in another case of life imitating art, he was defeated by an unstoppable force after a long battle (with cancer) at the age of 39 - according to the legend, Spartacus also died at 39. The showrunner - Steven DeKnight - apparently was counting on Andy's recovery and instead of a second season, he made a 6-episode mini-series that introduced us to (my favourite character of the show) Gannicus (Dustin Clare). Rise of Gannicus to the God of the Arena is as compelling as it is entertaining.
After Whitfield's passing, the role of Spartacus had to be recast; Liam McIntyre rose to the challenge and did a decent job in season 3. As expected, it took him a while to grow into the role of the leader of the slave-army. By season 4, though, he made the role his own. The series finale was entirely on McIntyre's shoulder, and he delivered it as well as anybody could.
I'd rather steer clear of spoilers in these reviews, so I would not get into the minutiae of the plots. But suffice to say that this show made me love the characters that I was supposed to root for, and dislike the antagonists while I respected and admired them. Making me care about the characters is what I loved most about this series. I can think of other shows with more respectable actors, writers, and directors, that received more accolades and awards, but failed to achieve that feat. For example, Boardwalk Empire is a show that has Martin Scorsese as executive producer, and has won Golden Globes and Emmys, but didn't invoke any emotions in me (neither positive towards to protagonists, nor negative towards the antagonists).
As I mentioned in one of my earlier posts, the major reasons that I love to immerse myself in movies, tv and other forms of entertainment, is that I want to escape into a different world. Spartacus was the perfect escape for me, and I will probably revisit this show in the future. For the reasons stated above, it was a 10/10 for me.