Empty9 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 14
They like their violence big and red over there at HBO, in part because they can do it without having to placate or otherwise dodge the ad boycott-threatening watchdogs. That's why we get "The Sopranos" and "Deadwood" and now a second and final 10-episode season of "Rome" in all of its bloody splendor.
This big-budget, elaborate, randy and broad production seems hell-bent on making up for all of the sanitizing that served to temper the historical epics of our youth. It is like a toga slasher party, the new season picking up after Julius Caesar's assassination that closed out Season 1 in Rome circa 44 B.C., showing us that any vestige of morality and civility has fallen prey to deceit, depravity and damnation galore. It remains a wholly impressive piece of work, stylish and graphic and bold in equal measure while at the same time greatly lacking a cohesive focus. This might be due in part to utilizing a committee of different writers and directors, each of whom no doubt has his own artistic vision. It tends to diminish the enjoyment of an otherwise sumptuous feast.
The opening few installments (Episodes 13, 14 and 15 overall going back to last season) deal with the clashing of Marc Antony (James Purefoy) with his nemesis Brutus (Tobias Menzies), with the principled and heroic Titus Pullo (Ray Stevenson), with Cleopatra (Lyndsey Marshal), with mega-intense and enraged control freak Vorenus (Kevin McKidd) and with troublemaker Atia (Polly Walker). This pretty much is a brutal soap opera for the ages, the bloodshed capricious and often jarring in its capacity to instill a sense of unease. But hey, if you tune in to "Rome," you know what you're going to get: a spectacularly broad rendering of a highly charged, wrenching and disturbingly erratic time. You know, kind of like the Washington of today.