Why 'Spartacus' is the Underrated TV Gem of the Decade

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Across the annals of TV history, there are a few television shows that, despite showing such promise, were abruptly and cruelly taken away from us. Such is the case with Spartacus, the gladiator-themed TV show which ran on Starz from 2010 to 2013.

Despite the big-budget, gory, and gritty series fast becoming a critical darling, as well as the most-watched TV show on the Starz network by a very wide margin, it was abruptly announced after the second season that the show was being canceled and that season three would be the last, much to the chagrin of fans the world over.

Whether you have already binge-watched Spartacus or are considering dipping your toe in the waters, just know that you are going to be experiencing one of TV's hidden gems of the decade.

One thing that few people remember is just how much of a critical and commercial success Spartacus actually was. The show won too many accolades to list here and is probably the most decorated New Zealand production in history. To list just a few examples, Spartacus was the recipient of a Saturn Award, a SAG Award, and a People's Choice Award.

Meanwhile, with first-season viewership figures hovering around the 1.2 million mark, it was by far the most popular TV show to ever air on the boutique Starz network. Although figures dipped slightly in season 2, it still retained a huge international following that critics continued to dote on throughout its lifespan. 

Spartacus was not the first media product to take on the legendary real-life tale of the ancient Roman gladiator slave revolt. There is the 1960 Kubrick epic Spartacus, which garnered four Academy Awards and was the highest-grossing film that year.

There are countless additional films and TV shows about the man himself, but none had the impact and success of the latest Spartacus TV series. This show was gritty, depicting the truly non-glorious nature of the gladiator life in a way that few other portrayals ever tried to do.

Rather than focusing on the legend itself, Spartacus takes an unflinching look at the grotesque inequalities and jaw-dropping contradictions and excesses of the era, as well as the brutal politics of the age. This is an accessible and honest take on one of history's most fascinating and least understood episodes.

It's also worth noting that the TV show deftly tapped into a longstanding cultural obsession not just with the figure of Spartacus but with this important era in ancient history. The evidence of this is clear in every aspect of our culture and media.

There's the smash-hit Spartacus comic book series that proceeded the TV show and is believed to have influenced the decision to create the show. There are numerous popular video games based on the story, such as the free-to-play Spartacus: Swords and Sandals PC game and the official Spartacus Legends console game based on the show.

Even in the multi-billion-dollar world of online gambling, the legend of Spartacus has made its mark. There is the popular Spartacus: Gladiator of Rome casino slot, which allows you to revisit the tale while also playing for real cash prizes. The fact that this slot is widely available on platforms such as BetMGM which, as Time2Play explains, is one of the most popular and prestigious gambling companies in the world, is a testament to the popular appeal of Spartacus today. Perhaps that is why Spartacus was renewed for a second season before the pilot had even aired. 

Spartacus may be gone, but it is certainly not forgotten. Although there is no chance of a fourth season, at least we always have the first three to revisit.

4.5 / 5.0