Netflix Minute is a weekly feature highlighting a title from Netflix's catalog of instant view films. If you want to spend a night snuggled up with a bag of popcorn and don't want to drive to the video store, this is for you.
In recent years, television has grown in a very surprising way, with budgets growing, scopes widening, and ambitions rising. Shows like Mad Men revolutionize the medium in a seemingly annual basis, with deep character arcs that span over seasons with truly emotionally affecting arcs. With this trend, cable TV has specifically seen the biggest boon, with networks like AMC, FX, and Starz seeing innovative television shows from a variety of genres. Spartacus: Blood and Sand might not have been possible in any other climate, displaying a level of cinematic quality (and theme) reminiscent of movies like 300 and Gladiator.
As the name suggests, Spartacus: Blood and Sand tells the story of Spartacus, a Thracian man who's enslaved after arguing tactics with his Roman general and deserting. Taking place during the rise of Roman power in Europe, Spartacus's enslavement places him in the calloused hands of a ludus (a school for training Gladiators). With no choice but to follow the commands of the ludus's master, Quintus Batiatus, Spartacus is left to fight in the arena hoping to scrape together his meager winnings in order to buy his freedom and the freedom of his wife, who was also enslaved as a result of his defection.
With a fairly well spelled out premise, Spartacus has plenty of room to stretch within those restrictions, exploring several facets of Roman life at several levels of social standing. The most fully explored aspect is obviously the life of a slave and the misery one has to endure on a daily basis, whether as slave is a gladiator fighting to the death in an arena or a handmaiden turned whore with a simple turn of phrase. The next social strata is also quite well tread, with Batiatus and his wife Lucretia often trying to climb the social ladder despite their lowly initial standing.
Every episode attacks a different theme within the lives of the characters, so one might explore the brutality of fights in the Roman underworld when the next observes the sexual promiscuity of nobility veiled by social cloak. The characters carry the show more than the plot, as each situation tests different limits that they can reach to keep moving forward. What must Spartacus do to keep himself alive, fight with no conscience or betray his own code of honor? How far will Batiatus go to wipe away his ludus's competitors, even when his purse strings are tight around a light bag? Even the smallest issues are interesting within the context of the setting and the fleshed out characters, so Spartacus stays interesting throughout it's whole thirteen show run.
One of the other reasons that a television show like this couldn't have been pulled off in a different time is the sheer amount of violence, sexual themes, and nudity that grace the screen. If you have no desire to see a geyser of blood erupt from a decapitated man's head or a visceral sex scene between a master and slave, this show isn't for you. While this might seem bombastic from the outside, the Spartacus does a lot to justify this level of adult content. By the end of the show, scenes like the ones previously mentioned won't provoke a flinch, as the story and endgame of the characters are engrossing enough in their own right.
When it comes down to it, Spartacus: Blood and Sand surpassed my expectations for it and managed to impress in several aspects. While it does have an overexposed and somewhat over the top visual style, the depth of its story and diversity of issues it deals with more than earns some indulgence. I'm definitely eager to see more of this show in its six-episode prequel and upcoming sequel seasons, which are made available on Starz and Netflix Instant View.