'Spartacus: Gods of the Arena' premiere: Sex, blood, and (alas) no Spartacus

spartacus-gods-arenaImage Credit: Matt Klitscher/StarzSpartacus: Gods of the Arena shouldn’t work. The six-episode miniseries was designed as a stopgap solution when Spartacus star Andy Whitfield had to bow out of filming a second season to receive cancer treatment. (Unfortunately, Whitfield ultimately had to resign from the series, and the lead role has since been recast.) Making a Spartacus series that doesn’t actually feature Spartacus sounds like an exercise in futility, like writing a Hardy Boys mystery about the Hardys’ best buddy Chet, or making a Jason Bourne movie without Jason Bourne. To make things worse, the miniseries is a prequel, a narrative format that mainly lends itself to relentless wheel-spinning. So it was a pleasure to find out that the Gods of the Arena premiere was such a surprisingly enjoyable hour of television.

Whitfield is sorely missed, and without him at the center, I’m not sure this miniseries can ever really be more than a well-produced mess. But it’s a gorgeous mess. Without the gravitas of Spartacus’ slave-revolt storyline, the makers of Spartacus seem willing to indulge their basest B-movie instincts. So the first hour was wall-to-wall with cartoonishly over-the-top fight sequences, jauntily unrestrained nudity from both sexes, and enough comically elaborate swearing to fill a fifth-grade playground. The plot follows a much younger Batiatus (John Hannah) and Lucretia (Lucy Lawless) as they try to take their stable of gladiators into the highest ranks. The simultaneous focus on the gladiators’ physical exertions and Batiatus’ back-room dealmaking make Spartacus feel more than ever like the bloodiest sports TV show ever. (It’s basically Any Given Sunday, except more realistic.)

Along with returning Spartacus stars Peter Mensah and Manu Bennett, Gods of the Arena features some delicious new characters. I’m not sure who I like more: Dustin Clare’s Gannicus, a gladiator champion with excessive tastes (threesome alert!) who narrowly survived a blindfolded street brawl; or Jaime Murray’s Gaia, a social climber who spent the first hour seducing Lucretia (lesbian sex alert!) and teaching her all about the joys of opium. I’m also intrigued to see more of Marisa Ramirez’ Melitta, who plays Oenomaus’ heretofore-unseen wife. (Presumably, something terrible will happen to her.)

Since Gods of the Arena is only going to last for six hours, and since we already know a few of the characters won’t make it out alive, this could make for fast-paced entertainment. Spartacus fans, did you enjoy Gods of the Arena? Did you like the new characters? Or is this miniseries just a distraction until the story really continues in season 2?

Darren on Twitter: @EWDarrenFranich

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  • MaxPowers

    This miniseries is definitely just a distraction until the real season two comes…but it’s a good distraction.

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      • kantab

        what does this have to do with Spartacus?

    • Charles

      It look like the fighter with the young gay lover killed is back on Spartacus. I don’t remember the character’s name.

      • heather

        the gay fighter is barker just to refresh

      • mike

        its actually barca

    • Charles

      The character’s name is Barca. I thought I saw him on a commercial in Spartacus; Gods of the Arena. He was killed. I wonder how they brought his character back from the dead.

      • barca

        This is a prequel to Season 1. Therefore, he is not being brought back from the dead, because this occurred before he died.

      • Charles

        barca, thank you for explaining that to me. LOL

        I thought I was seeing things.

      • b.mclane

        These 6 shows called “Spartacus: Gods of the Arena” are a prequel (that means all this happens BEFORE the Spartacus character, Andy Whitfield plays comes onboard.) So these 6 shows are like a flashback and explains how some of the other characters come into the House of B. before Andy’s character is made a slave). Barca would still be alive in these shows.

      • fntm

        Yeah; it’s like: How in the world did ANYONE not get that?

      • Lisa

        Its a prequel.They didnt bring him back

    • kerri wood

      defo a good distaction, its had me distracted every day since it came out.mm mm mmmmmmm.

    • dUMBO

      I agree with you Max Power, it was indeed a good distraction. In fact I like Gannicus.I don’t mind him being the Spartacus… but how would they(script writers) do that?

  • Dana

    I was somewhat skeptical, but also found myself enjoying the further “fleshing out” (there was a goodly amount of that – yum) of the familar characters as well as introducing interesting new ones. I am looking forward to seeing: the rise of Oenemaus to Doctore (and the fate of his wife), and the rise of Crixus (I’m assuming that he will eventually challenge/defeat Gannicus) and the further development of the Beast of Carthage, and the soon to be crippled former gladiator/snake toady of Batiatus) – sorry I can’t think of their character names/real names right now

    • Josh

      the cripple gladiator’s name is Asher

      • Charles

        Asher also play on the canceled Crash series with the late Dennis Harper.

    • cboring

      So who (besides me) was waiting for Oenemaus to push Gannicus over the edge of the cliff?????

      • Heidi

        I thought he might as well. But he has too much honor. I’m sure he was giving it ssome thought!!
        I have a feeling that Gannicus might want Oenemaus’ wife (and she has interest and distaste for him at the same time, so she COULD be convinced – or told that she is Gannicus’ reward one of these days) – and THAT could push some rage from Oenemaus…hope he doesn’t kill his wife but he may well kill Gannicus over it.

    • wills

      DarrenFranich needs to accept that this people are better writers and enjoy this seoson with us

  • Justin

    I loved it! Every second of it!!!

    • Zoe

      Me, too! Jupiters C*ck how I’ve missed this show!!

      • Heidi

        I did wish they didn’t say the F word every second word. I’m not a prude but it was a bit much. Or was it just me?

      • jodipo

        Drinking game back on!!! They used the F word a few times, but
        (as per the drinking game) I counted the word c*ck a good deal more. There hasnt been that much c*ck talk since the first couple of episodes of season 1!! Wow was I drunk at the end of this one!

      • Jason

        What about Asher’s comment on being rewarded with wine and c#nt? He uses that word regularly

      • Mr.V


  • Necros

    “a surprisingly enjoyable hour of television”

    LOL, are you kidding?! This show is very weak, crappy acting and dialogue, over the top fight scenes with cheap effects… The only enjoyable thing is the nudity. I’ll never understand why people love this show…

    • justin

      People love it because of the good dialogue, great characters, and intese fight scenes. If you don’t like it, take your crappy comments elsewhere. Luckily, this show doesn’t depend on whether you understand people’s love for it.

      • Heidi

        Justin I love the show but lets be honest, the flirting and nudity don’t hurt. I do like the fight scenes and the costumes and it was a very interesting era in general.

      • Jason

        Then don’t watch it.

    • Bea

      yet you’re watching it, right?

    • Kevin

      Nobody is makin you watch it, tard.

    • FellAsleep

      Agreed! I actually fell asleep half way through cuz it was so boring & repetitive. It is the same story. Gladiators fight, sluts have sex & wanta have sex with nasty Gladiators, and Batiatus (sp?) plans & plots on how to impress the masses. We all saw this last season with a different, fresh cast. Plus we *know* most of the cast is not going to make. Hopefully season 2 will be fresh.

      • Jason

        Yes, we do have an idea of things to come. But we don’t know how or why Batiatus and Salonius become enemies, how/why Onemaus’ wife is killed, how Crixus will rise and become so arrogant, etc. Plenty of reasons to watch.

      • fntm

        Nobody believes you fell asleep… unless you drank a couple of bottles of Nyquil beforehand.

      • A.J.

        I agree w/jason. where some things r going to be pretty obviouse… like how cryxus becomes champion gladiator and so arrogant… the characters them selfs r the pure entertainment of the show, and what/who they r/become. But y get all into a first great season and not whatch a prequel of that same great season because of some minor character adjustments… ok more than minor but still. God be w/ Spartacus and his troubles, he will be missed.

    • Roger C.

      Whatever, please don’t grace us with your presence anymore. Last night was a very good episode, and it was NOT mindless.

    • garry

      well necros you watched it anyway.it was a joy to watch anything other than jennifer aniston ,heigl,sandler,james,hathaway,rudd,and allthe rest who make movies by the month. i do like them but good god every month a new love story. sad to say i will miss original spartacus, played it to the hilt. enjoyed the new series opener very much.other thanplaying to porn fans with all the sex, it was well recieved.glad they are using the other original stars with this one.the only part i dont like is men kissing men sexually.im not a prude or anti gay, but some young kids are going to watch this series. its only my opinion,not a bash……………

      • Bob

        Wait…so decapitations and murder are ok, and let us not forget the utterance of pervasive language, but it’s men kissing that the children shouldn’t see??? What are you talking about?

        That aside, I loved it. The show is what it is…crude, violent, and lacking care for people as human beings. This was Rome. If you don’t like it, don’t watch.

      • Zoe

        I’m with Bob — your one objection is two men in love kissing?? Priorities, mate. Priorities.

      • Emma

        Garry No parent in their right mind would let there young kids watch this show. At the beginning it say not suitable for yound kids to watch.

      • nik

        I have young kids – no way they’re going to watch this.

        I wouldn’t mind them seeing a gay kiss – whatever, kids are not going to care one bit – but seeing a head cut in half with the brains spilling out, along with about 30 other similar scenes IS NOT FOR KIDS. In fact I found myself looking away at times, even though I can’t get enough of this series. I am not the gore fan I used to be in my old age.

      • fntm

        Yeah; we could do with a lot less men on men kissing. That’s for sure.

      • kantab

        what!.. kids? watching this? you must be kidding. this ain’t no show 4 kidz. ok?

    • Zoe

      We love it because it’s b*alls to the wall fun.

    • Amy Han

      Then don’t watch but certainly don’t ruin it for everyone else

  • James

    I absolutely loved the miniseries. I only wish that Andy Whitfield could have been healthy enough to have made the real 2nd season.

  • Hoboken Gladiator

    Soo glad Spartacus is back. Nothing cures my lust and bloodlust better. Althought it is a shame about Andy (get well soon); the rest of this cast and the writing are amazing.

    I am thankful for the pre-quel to flesh out some of our favorite characters. The backstories of Crixus, Doctore Oenemaus and Ashur will be greatly appreciated.

    • Barton Fink

      Mostly, I just wanted to applaud the name Hoboken Gladiator. And to agree with you.

  • Shane

    I absolutely loved it!!!! I cant wait until the real season 2 comes on. I am actually verry happy that they gave us a little something to watch(the prequel) to keep our attention until the real season 2 comes on. I am looking forward to the next epsiode in this prequel. The writer/producer/directors etc… are awesome!!! GREAT JOB!! And for the people who dont want to watch it the dont, . but let us fans enjoy!!

    • faraway

      Absolutely FAB- First time watching this-Please tell me the name of the gladiator(glad and actor) who had to ‘perform’ with someone’s wife to a party of people. She really looked as though she was enjoying it.

      • Joanna Hopkins

        are thinking of Melitta, Oenomaus’ wife, who had to “perform” with Gannicus to entertain a visiting Roman dignitary, lucky Melitta!

  • baq

    Why bother with a second season? The Slaves escape, kill a lot of Romans and are eventually defeated. No Lucy Lawless, no John Hannah… if they do 6 hours of that, fine, but a whole second season, when everyone dies anyway… boring!

    They should have made Gods of the Arena the whole second season, now it’ll be over before we know it. Sigh.

    • Prospero

      Lucy Lawless will be back for the second season if that’ll cheer you up.

    • Why tell any stories?

      Yeah why was Titanic made into a film…we already knew it sank and a bunch of people died. Why do people tell stories at all when we know the ending? Is the journey supposed to be more important than the destination?? Nonsense. Sigh.

    • Ron

      Actually, Lucy Lawless will be back. Read an interview with her and if you remember, Crixus thrust the sword in her womb to kill the child not her.

      • amanda

        I agree, it didn’t actually show her die, she could yet live! Imagine the rage she’ll have…stay outta her way!

    • Charlie

      You should read your history (if you care enough to comment) the story of Spartacus has many more chapters, at it’s peak he leads a resistance of 75,000 slaves against the Roman army, That part isn’t worth telling?

      • Moss

        I agree. I’m sure there could be multiple seasons worth of stuff here, with the added bonus that Spartacus’ body was never found and his fate is unknown. For all we know he discovered the fountain of youth and is still alive today!

  • jim

    Thought the show was excellent, and really looking forward to the rest of them and the next season also. IMO, best show on TV right now for my money. I do agree that they should have made this prequel at least 10 episodes if not more.. Oh well

  • sharry

    Didn’t enjoy it at all. I will not be watching again,

    • Roger C.

      Who are you people? Last night was one of the best episodes in the show’s history.

  • Jordon

    Andy is healthy again and he has been working on the “real” sequel to the first season. He said so, the writer S. D knight said so. and its going to happen.

    • len

      What are you smoking? Did you miss the link in the article here about the new actor playing spartacus or that same information all over the place?

    • Heidi

      sorry Jordon his return was premature and shortly after starting to tape it, the cancer recurred. He’s off the show and we all wish him well.

      • Katano

        Are we sure Andy is done??? Cuz without him the show is tepid at best. The new Spartacus character is a joke, Im going to keep hoping Whitfield will return.

  • Geronimo

    I will definitely be back for the second chapter, and likely the other four as well. Fun story, and Jaime Murray is just a bonus…

  • Dan Landon

    Crazy. Violent. Cruel. The real Romans of old would feel right at home, and so do we fans. Plenty of story, many familiar characters along with new exciting ones. Great mini arena set. It’s over the top, but that’s what we expect.

  • Thomas Sale

    Well, Well… so I was playing poker in facebook get a call didn’t even know they were picking it back up..

    my thoughts well heard it was a prequal thought at first it was a recap for season two to pick up.

    alas not the deal and as the writer put it and everyone else we all know what happens so watching is just to see how the rising of bartiartis’s House and we all already know of the falling. hummmm will stay tuned but not %100..

  • damian

    Loved it.

    • Patricia Evina

      When does season 2 start, I love this history lesson

      • Aziz

        me too I would to be around at that time of history…..
        all the girls on the show are so damn fit!!!!

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