Spartacus: Blood and Sand, Spartacus: Blood and Sand | WARRIORS Andy Whitfield (right) plays the sweaty, brooding title character in Spartacus .
Credit: Kirsty Griffin/Starz

I’d forgotten how much fun shows such as Xena: Warrior Princess were until the arrival of Spartacus: Blood and Sand. A slashing look at Roman warfare that trades on Zack Snyder’s 300 but has deeper roots in the Xena and Hercules shows produced by Sam Raimi and Rob Tapert, Spartacus is a Raimi-Tapert reunion. It stars Andy Whitfield in the brooding, sweaty title role. He’s forced into slavery by the Romans, and agrees to become a gladiator when his masters promise he’ll be reunited with his kidnapped wife (Erin Cummings).

Among the decadent Romans is Xena herself, Lucy Lawless — in real life married to Tapert but here wed to The Mummy‘s John Hannah. The impressive amount of kinky-sex freedom afforded by being on Starz (you ain’t seen Xena like this, kids) is enhanced by the transfixing violence, a gleeful spray of blood and bone when the gladiators clash. Spartacus makes the most of a combination of low budget and clever special effects by having hordes of patently CG’d-in Romans appear behind the heroes. I’ve seen four episodes, and the fighting is a fizzy, unique mix of martial arts, S&M, gay and straight soft porn, and soap operatics.

In other words, after artistic duds like the TV version of Crash, Starz may have found its destination series in Spartacus. This might prove to be the not-at-all-guilty pleasure of the season. B+

Spartacus: Blood and Sand
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