Get ready for Full Frontal Empire. That's the sort of description critics are kicking around for HBO's big-money, 12-hour series "Rome," launching its weekly episodes Aug. 28. Yes, this lavish location production vividly illustrates the rise of Julius Caesar, and yes, it charts the class warfare behind the decline of democracy and rise of empire, and yes, it's historically authentic, blah blah blah.
It's also in-your-face with full-frontal nudity, battle brutality, whippings, crucifixions and blood-drenched pagan rituals. In other words: enough debauchery to make Cecil B. DeMille's old-Hollywood Sodom wallows seem positively preschool.
"Rome" is a linchpin in HBO's bid to reclaim water-cooler cool, at a time when, despite another slew of Emmy nominations, the channel hears industry whispers that it's slipping in quality and zeitgeist status. Chairman Chris Albrecht spent most of his Friday press conference reciting a litany of HBO achievements that accomplished nothing so much as make critics chatter about him being so defensive.
Their reaction to early episodes of "Rome" previewed here was lukewarm, most critics finding it the expectedly extravagant costume epic, boasting artsy British accents and historical context but not much dramatic momentum.
... mesuspects critics are in covering-their-rear-ends mode after hyping Empire as something wonderful ...