My brother Bill was not yet ready to let go of 'Rome'. Here are some more of his musings on the matter....
I think what I enjoyed the most about HBO's "Rome" was that, despite all the extravagance paid to the sets, costumes, special effects, etc., the creators still were able to restrain themselves from going overboard, and they never forgot the underlying principle to good TV: compelling, intelligent stories. They were as stoic as Lucius Vorenus when it came to the visuals and, in some cases, the details.
Rather than gorging us on an over-use of huge, theatrical shots, they teased us with bits and pieces of this massive 5-acre set they created. They let you see for miles down a Roman street and gaze at some of the grandeur that was Rome, but they let you have only a brief peek. They never wasted a shot. Instead, they packed a lot into every frame, more than what you were supposed to be looking at, but if you go back and look again, you'll see things going on that in themselves tell us more about the history of Ancient Rome than any textbook could ever accomplish.
A few examples:-- That calendar: They really did have something like that, and it was wonderfully complicated. Never explained per se in the show, but it made you want to know more.-- The newsreader: A stroke of genius to use him to narrate parts of the storyline without actually showing it to us, and to throw in an explanation of what was happening now and then when needed. And yes, the hand gestures were based on historical fact. Loved the commercial breaks, too.-- Those lighted masks at Servillia's house: Apparently they were life masks made of all her ancestors when they were still alive, and they were all quite distinguished, probably dating back to the first Brutus, who famously saved the Republic from a previous dictator. -- The sheets sometimes hanging in the streets: This must have been the so-called garment district, where dyes were used to make those colorful cloths. It seems Vorenus and his wife lived in an enclave off of this district. It could have also been the public laundromats, where clothes were washed clean in a form of natural vinegar we all know as piss.-- The sewers: That scene between Pullo and young Octavian, with Vorenus' brother-in-law, makes you marvel at all the elaborate Roman engineering and architecture BELOW street level, not just above it.-- The palms: At all the tributes and parades, people lining the streets waving palms, a tradition most Christians are familiar with around this time of year.
I could go on, but I'm hogging space as it is....
Keeping with my theme, though, how about the stoic writing? (Not me, the show - LOL.) Much praise is due the writers for not hitting us over the head with the obvious. My two favorite examples of that are from the assassination of Caesar and its aftermath, in both Seasons 1 and 2:
-- Thanks to Shakespeare, we all know, or think we know, what Julius Caesar said when Brutus stabbed him, and yet, the writers purposefully didn't let us hear those words from Caesar's mouth. It's possible when he was trying to speak in that scene, those were the words his lips were mouthing, and that only Brutus could make it out. But to have had him lying there, quaking, in all that blood, and reciting those lines on cue almost would have been funny. Wisely, the writers didn't go there.
-- And then, again because of Shakespeare, we know, or think we know, those famous first six words of Mark Antony's eulogy for Caesar. The start of this season had a huge buildup to Caesar's funeral, and yet, when the time came, we weren't allowed to be there, partly because I just don't think any amount of cinematography or acting could ever live up to the image in our heads of how those lines should be delivered. Rather, we are given an after-the-fact re-telling of the scene by commoners who were there and heard it, again with the hand gestures. Much more powerful that way.
And in case anyone who hasn't seen this series mistakes it for some dry drama with guys in drag, trust me: if all the sex scenes were compiled into one continuous vignette, it would need at least an R rating, probably an X. (Throw in the torture scenes, and every time a blade sliced through tender flesh or a stiff neck, and you'd get that X rating for sure!)
Speaking of the sex scenes, did anyone else but me notice the cutaway shot during the scene between Pullo and Gaia the slavewoman this season? He pounds her on the table, she taunts him for more, so he then flips her over and gives it to her from behind. During this second round of rough sex, the camera cuts to the floor to show some pottery that was knocked over and broken... Then... DRIP... DRIP... DRIP... Took me a minute to figure out what that was, and when I did, I let out a loud "Ewwwwwwwwwww!"
Hey, can't get that on the Discovery Channel.
To sum up, and to answer Tim's original question about the storytelling, I really loved it... Historial fiction must have a way to convey what happened in an entertaining and gripping way, and the device they used was a stroke of genius, with all due kudos to a previous BBC series, "Upstairs, Downstairs." As in that show some 30 years ago, we get a real feeling for the time period thanks to the trials and tribulations of both the upper class AND the lower class, the famous and the anonymous, and how they were intertwined, sometimes quite fatefully. Using the vehicles of Vorenus and Pullo -- as dynamic a duo in TV annals as there ever was -- we get a better understanding of everyday life in Rome. We also get to see how, as different as they were in class rank, the "Upstairs" and "Downstairs" of Roman society had very similar family problems.
Yes, it would've been nice to see the series continue, but in a way, I think its two-year run fits perfectly with the Catos and Vorenuses of the time: Less is more. As I've stated elsewhere, this series was like a classic novel. You know when it will end because it's only a certain number of pages long, but you are so drawn into it that you savor every word, and when you finally reach the conclusion, you put it on your shelf in a place of honor and keep a copy in your soul to forever be a part of who you are.
In that way, "Rome" will be the eternal series.
Man! I gotta see this series!