Most of us know a bit about the story/myth of Spartacus.The Thracian slave is captured and sentenced to death ad gladium, but as it turns out, he's actually pretty good at killing people so he survives. He's then sent to a ludus (gladiatorial school) and gets even better at killing people. Eventually he gets sick of his cruel, pompous masters, so he and his gladiator mates decide to kill their way to freedom and start a servant revolution (the third servile war). This goes well for a bit, but then they all die. Some really touching stuff. The plot of season one leads to the climax of the revolt against their ludus and begging of the war.
I'll be the first to admit that the first handful of episodes are pretty underwhelming. They give the impression of one part 300 ripoff, one part Gladiator wannabe, shaken with a dash of soft core porn. But once the characters become fleshed out and you become invested in them, the drama ramps up big time, leaving you unable to stop watching. That is of course if you can stomach the violence.
I've honestly never seen anything like the gore in "Spartacus". Decapitations and eviscerations are aplenty, gladiators are separated from their limbs more frequently than a Mr. Potato Head doll, faces are filleted off the barely breathing recently defeated and used as masks in upcoming battles (i'm serious, ep. 4). It's a wonder this show can be aired on television, even a premium network. There is a disclaimer at the opening of every episode that states that the violence/ sex is there as an accurate depiction of roman culture. Call me skeptical, but it's there for ratings. I'd imagine it is difficult to write and produce a compelling television show. Not only must they create appropriate story archs to drive single episodes, but also fit those into an overarching story that propels the season onward. Isn't it easier to throw a bunch of money at CGI guys and models to get some awesome blood and boobies to attract viewers? You bet. To tell the truth, I likely would not have made it through the first episodes if not for my morbid curiosity of seeing a mans head lobed off in slow motion backed by some hard rock. But to my surprise the drama suddenly upstaged the violence and now we have the best of both worlds, story and violence, awesome!
This uber violence remains, but it's not the only reason for watching the show anymore. It becomes almost common place, while only slightly shocking, and acts as a punctuation to the drama back at the ludus that you really care about. It's kind of scary that when a we see a mans face crushed by the heel of a boot, the only reaction my housmates and I have is a squirm and giggle.
You can catch all episodes of "Spartacus" on Netflix and even the prequel airing now, "Spartacus: Gods of the Arena" which forgoes the slow start of the previous season and therefore highly recommend.
Really, watch it, the only complaint I have is on some of the hilarious "period specific" dialog. My personal favorite, which I unsuccessfully try to incorporate into my daily vocab, is the phrase "Jupiter's cock!"