Friday, January 26, 2007

T.V. on TV: Rome, The Naked Trucker and T-Bones Show, Friends of God, The Dresden Files and the NFL Network

By Todd VanDerWerff

HBO's Rome is good TV. It's not particularly deep, but it's fun to watch, and it's got great production values, cinematic direction and some fine performances. It's diminished, however, simply by virtue of the network it's on. If it appeared on a different channel, any channel, it would surely be considered one of its best shows. But on HBO, it has to compete with Deadwood, The Wire, The Sopranos and even young upstart Big Love. In comparison, Rome seems almost sophomoric -- a high gloss soap opera.

HBO's great series almost always take a worn-out genre and blow it up, following the template of The Sopranos, which hit familiar mob story plot points but did so more slowly and meticulously than other televised attempts at same. From there, HBO tackled Westerns and cop dramas and family soaps. Rome initially promised to be a nasty takeoff on swords-and-sandals epics, a chance to examine the lurid reality of Roman society around the time of Julius Caesar's reign, but the series has settled into a less ambitious groove; it seems content merely to exemplify its genre rather than reinvent it. Cecil B. DeMille movies made Bible stories more palatable by mixing in liberal doses of sex and violence; Rome just ups the ante a bit and shows them full-on. There's a vague and somewhat obligatory-seeming attempt to define the sex and violence as outgrowths of the era's politics (Polly Walker's Atia is constantly sleeping with men who will give her the greatest political boost), but for the most part, these elements serve the same function as in DeMille's films: Look at how much sex there was in ancient Rome! And how much violence!

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