HBO's Rome took a downturn in its third episode. Truth is, not much happened. Pompey and the senators decided to get out of town before Caesar arrived, but there wasn't much of interest in the way they did it. For some reason, the producers have decided to make Atia, the mother of the future emperor Augusta and his sister Octavia, the most ruthless women who ever lived. But, exactly what her motives are is hard to say. There's nothing in the historical record to justify such a character. So there must be something coming in the plot that will explain her. The most puzzling thing about this series is that viewers are led to believe it will be presented in hour-long segments. But each episode ends before the end of the hour. The third lasted only forty-five minutes. I don't suppose there's anything hideously wrong with that division but it is a little disconcerting.  (Posted, 9/12/05)

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The second episode of Rome began to give the HBO series a solid foundation, after a near incoherent start. The two fictional characters at the heart of the drama -- a Roman centurion and one of his soldiers -- are coming more alive and promise to develop into interesting characters. Among the historical figures, the one best-acted at the moment is Marc Antony, who manages to be halfway appealing and swashbuckling at the same time. The droopiest figure is Cato, the Younger, who, if he's accurately portrayed, shows that senatorial integrity wasn't worth much during the final days of the Roman Republic. The finest thing of all about the series remains the depiction of Rome itself, a brawling, tempestuous, insanely sensual city. If the real Rome was actually like that, it would be a place you would want to stay away from at the same time you were being tempted.  (Posted, 9/5/05)

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HBO's depiction of Rome during the era of Julius Caesar got underway on Sunday, August 28, 2005. It's hard to know what the average viewer will make of it. The politics of the first century B.C. were as tangled as during any other complex period of history. And unless one has at least a passing knowledge of the time, he'll probably be confused by the various characters and the underpinning of their motives. There are small attempts to show how the former aristocratic pillars of the Republic are crumbling, and a new style of ambitious man is rising to power. Yet, for many, the whole thing will be confusing. HBO tries to make up for the fragmentation with a rich portrayal of the background conditions -- what life was like in Rome among the privileged classes, and also what the conditions were at the outskirts of the Empire, where barbarian warriors were falling prey to the disciplined organization of the Roman legions. Seeing all this might intrigue people. After the first episode, uncertainty is still the proper response, The dramatic power may build, or the whole thing might get to be a bore. I'll try to keep up with it and let you know, as the weeks roll along.  (Posted, 8/29/05)

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