Monday, 29 September 2014

Plebs: The Baby


I feel like I should be making some kind of Three Men and a Baby reference, but this episode is really Two Men and a Baby - Marcus wants nothing to do with any of it.

This is an episode based on a genuine ancient phenomenon, which always makes me happy (that the episode is based on something ancient that is, not the phenomenon itself, which is pretty horrible). In the ancient world, if people couldn't afford to raise a baby, they would expose it - we have a particularly brutal letter from a man in Roman Egypt to his pregnant wife telling her to raise the baby if it's a boy, but expose it if it's a girl.

One place you could expose the baby if you wanted to give it a fighting chance was the dump. People have to go to the dump to get rid of their rubbish, so there's a high chance of the baby being seen, and someone might take it in - either to raise as their own or, more likely, as a handy free slave (granted you have to put in a few years employing a wet nurse to feed it first, but at least none of your female slaves has to be pregnant for nine months, which affects their productivity). It's established here that this is how Marcus' parents acquired Grumio - on a hill, in his case - and this is how Grumio acquires Binny (technically for the ever-indulgent Marcus, unless Stylax claims her - Grumio can neither own property, including slaves, nor can he claim parental rights over any child, even if it was biologically his).

Obviously other aspects of the episode were less accurate - I'm sure I don't have to tell you that the Romans did not have paternity leave. They also didn't have orphanages - exposed babies were either picked up to be used as slaves or they died. I did like the child running around playing with a mace at the shelter though, which amused me. Perhaps it's a good thing I'm not a parent.

I loved the B plot in this episode, in which Shredder and Water-Man are replaced by a furnace and a table, thanks to the endless march of technology. I particularly enjoyed Water-Man's final triumphant "Water-Man!" as he proved that there are some things a person can do that a table can't (and nor could a water-cooler, for that matter). I was a bit confused at first when we saw the fans leaving because for a moment I thought they were chimney sweeps (which would be right out, since the Romans didn't have chimneys) - I didn't recognise the fans when they were held upright that way! Also it's late and it's been a long day...

The C plot about Cynthia's play was rather thin, but I did like her War Horse-inspired Trojan Horse costume.

Another enjoyable episode and actually almost touching in places. I rather hope we see Binny again, though since working with babies is famously difficult, it seems unlikely. I'm also still hoping Metella gets a bit more to do soon - I was almost hoping she and Cynthia would end up with Binny, just to give them a meatier storyline and something to do...

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Saturday, 27 September 2014

Plebs: The Best Men


Water-Man is getting married, and since Marcus and Stylax are his closest friends, it's up to them to organise his stag do.

Stag dos in sitcoms are always a good opportunity to flesh out one or two secondary characters a bit, and this one does that nicely. I always enjoy seeing more of Water-Man, and it's nice to see Claudius (who sends out messages to all staff, so I guess he's the equivalent of the person who runs the staff mailing lists?) getting fleshed out a bit more as well. Is it wrong that I really liked the sound of the ghost tour of Rome? But then, I am interested in ancient ghost stories and Roman afterlife beliefs, so I guess it would be weirder if I didn't.

We also get to meet Stylax's new driving instructor, and I'm desperately trying not to be bothered by the fact traffic was banned in Rome during the day because I am enjoying those scenes a lot (I have a weakness for quirky driving lessons or tests - the best example of which has to be the Assassin's Guild final exam in Terry Pratchett's Pyramids). Balbus himself is a bit of a stereotype, but then, they all are, and the idea of him sleeping in his chariot after his wife throws him out is pretty funny.

Grumio spends much of the stag do high on henbane, which leads to some amusing images as he hallucinates chickens everywhere. Henbane was known as a hallucinogen called hyoscyamos in the ancient world (Pliny the Elder talks about its negative effect on the mind, as well as the fact it induces vertigo; Natural History 25.17) and probably was taken re-creationally, especially as ancient writers sometimes compared it to wine. Half the internet seems to believe the priestess of Apollo took it to inspire oracles (at Delphi, presumably) and claim Pliny as the source of this information, but since none of the sites I've looked at provide a reference to Pliny and our best information for the priestess at Delphi comes from Plutarch, who doesn't mention anything about drugs taken orally (lots of sweet-smelling incense is involved, according to Plutarch), I'm rather skeptical of that - though if anyone does know of a reference for it, let me know. I'm also ignoring the fact that neither any form of drug, nor prostitution was illegal in the ancient world, so there's no reason for the guards to be after Landlord for drug dealing.

I'm enjoying this second season of Plebs so far, and I really like the way modern analogies like the driving lessons continue to be mixed up with genuinely ancient plots, like Water-Man's father arranging a marriage for him because it will be good for business. My main quibble with these first two episodes is that we've seen hardly anything of the girls. It's probably too much to expect them to have stories and character development of their own beyond providing lust objects for the boys, but in these two episodes Metella in particular feels like she's been given a line or two just to justify paying the actress, and even Cynthia has only turned up for a few minutes to yell at Marcus. Hopefully they'll have a bit more to do in the next episode.

All Plebs reviews

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Plebs: The Chariot


Plebs is back! And it knows how to get me on side right away by opening with a chariot race, though the fact it appeared to be taking place in an amphitheatre rather than a circus was a bit distracting.

As long-time readers know, I'm an F1 fanatic and a big fan of the idea that ancient chariot races were just like an ancient form of F1 (or NASCAR, since they took place around an oval track). So I was a big fan of the opening scene. The rest of the chariot = car/motorbike analogy was iffier on accuracy (traffic wasn't allowed to move through the streets of Rome during the day, because of the congestion) but I did like all the references to Stylax wearing 'leathers'. It did get me wondering whether anyone drove chariots around the streets - I was under the impression that the actual traffic in Rome consisted of carts, partly because of the massive cobbles that chariots would bounce around all over, but I hadn't really given it much thought, and even it that were the case, the idea of young people riding around in chariots all the time for fun is actually quite appealing and fits Plebs rather well.

The rest of this episode was a fairly predictable story about Marcus going out with the prostitute next door, but I did like the scene where the boys try to steal wishing pennies from the fountain. It seemed like a bright enough idea, and them splashing each other was fun, as well as a nice homage to the Friends opening sequence (the Friends pilot coincidentally having aired exactly twenty years before this episode did, which doesn't half make me feel old).

A fairly gentle episode to ease us back in (graphic sex scene notwithstanding) but it's great to have Plebs back. I didn't realise how much I'd missed it until I heard it's bizarre but strangely catchy and endearing reggae-type opening theme tune. Just try not to think about the fact it's Hizdahr zo Loraq running around ineffectually threatening cheating husbands.

Episode 2 review to follow later in the week.

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