Thursday, September 15, 2005

HBO Rome

According to the website there are fourteen roles in HBO’s Rome that have appeared in the series so far. Unfortunately there are only five characters:

Interchangeable Noble

Let me be clear: there is nothing wrong with haughtiness, but something is wrong when the only difference between characters is the age and sex of the actor playing them. All the nobles, with the exception of Servila (so far) are played as cunning completely selfish phonies who have a binary emotional range over fake smile-pleasantness and violent cursing anger fit. Even Cicero, supposedly a brilliant legal mind as well as possibly the most persuasive orator ever to exist, reacts the exact same way as Octavian or Atia or Pompey when angered: he sneers and grits his teeth and violently shakes the object of his frustration; otherwise he is usually skulking about with a cow like look of shock and incomprehension, posing questions that explain some plot point not otherwise illustrated by good writing.

And explaining is one thing this show does a lot. The entire head wound scene could have been cut to a money shot of the plate insertion or shard extraction leaving more room for character interaction rather then gory “that’s the way it was” history lessons. The fight in the senate is another example. We see the fight happen, but have no idea who started it or why, and more significantly, it just cuts to the scene where Cicero assaults the senate parliamentarian. We have no idea how the fight ends. A fight’s end is usually a better illustration of character then its beginning. Think about the fight between Swearengen and Bullock at the beginning of season two of Deadwood. Or the time the hoopleheads tried to tar and feather the N—General Fields, or the assault on the county official in Toliver’s cage, or Bullock’s fight with the Indian in the first season. The fight just seems to be in there to illustrate a history lesson. Atia’s blood rite, the scene where Atia’s household discuss who will assist the suicide of who, the opening montage, the lengthy senate scenes, the street theater scene with Pompey and Scipio, the theft of the Treasury, Corenelia’s marriage ceremony, and Pompey and Cicero’s discussion over a gladiatorial arena all are similar extraneous historical illustrations.

However, historical illustration is no evil in and of itself, only when it steals resources from character development does it become problematic. So to continue my comparison of Rome to other HBO series like Deadwood, here are some alternate characters to put into the currently indistinguishable noble Romans:

Atia- 70%Brenda Chenowith/30%Joanie stubbs

It would be interesting to see how Brenda would cope with this alternate moral system, possibly reading advice about how to whip her slaves and then fretting from natural compassion.

Octavian- as is

His youth is the only excuse for the haughtiness and self absorption of the nobility.

Octavia-40%Trixie/60% Claire Fischer

Why is every noble cunning and selfish? Why not a self-destructive teen rebel (maybe Jane is a better mix then Trixie)? Aren't there any drugs in Rome?

Timon-Dan with a wife and kids

Dan from Deadwood, except he has a family to consider while doing the dirty deeds necessary in his line of work.

Brutus-80%The Dude/20%David Fischer

He practically is The Dude form Deadwood, but he should have some of the neurotic insecurity of David Fischer. Instead of being nervous about homosexuality, he is nervous about living up to his legacy (which is basically the same thing David was worried about).

Caesar-70%Ari Gold/30%Al Swearengen

Caesar is a somewhat flamboyant hedonist like Ari, but a hedonist with a purpose. He’s older then Ari and lives in a rougher time, so he has hardened like Swearengen, but has been more fortunate in his life then Al.

Antony-Josh Weinstein while he was working for Ari/Caesar

If Caesar is basically Ari, Antony is definitely Josh Weinstein: just like his older counterpart but without as much power or as many responsibilities.

Pompey-90%Wild Bill/10%Farnum

Pompey is from a backwater of Italy and has risen to fame through martial competence. Life has been extraordinarily good to him and given his relatively unprivileged background, he has achieved a quiet contentment with life (strong silent type). However, his skills are unbalanced like Bill, and he sometimes is easily manipulated, partially due to his Farnum like somewhat naïve reverence for established power.

Cato-80%Merrick/20%Ari's boss

Cato, father of libertarians, is like Merrick in that he lives in an idealized academic reality that leaves him oblivious to the visceral world around him. He is either unaware or dismissive of the fact that Rome is cracking at the seems over class conflict. He’s also more conniving and selfish then Merrick.

Cicero-Sol Star OR Cy Toliver

Cicero is a powerful orator, not likely to lose his temper. In a tough spot he is more likely to sweet talk then let his emotions take control. For a sympathetic version, he’d have the goodness of Sol, for an antipathetic character he could take on the conniving ambition of Toliver.


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