An excerpt from Newsweek:

... "We're in a very competitive universe right now," says Carolyn Strauss, HBO's president of entertainment. "We always need a hit. But everybody always does."

"Rome" deserves to be the next one, by Jupiter. The show is an ingenious amalgam of hard-core history and yummy soap opera, with lots of violence and sex. Think of it as "I, Claudius" on steroids and Viagra (and tons more substantial than ABC's cheesy series "Empire"). The series opens with Julius Caesar fighting in Gaul and plotting his return to Rome. Caesar is a man of the people, which scares the pants off the political establishment (who, come to think of it, don't actually wear pants). The most threatened of all is Pompey, a rival who happens to be married to Caesar's only daughter, who soon dies in childbirth, leaving him without an heir. You really can't make this stuff up!

In fact, while "Rome" works hard to stay true to the historical characters, the show isn't afraid of a little fiction. Along with the textbook political intrigue, "Rome" has also created a second layer of largely fiction-al stories centering on two soldiers, lusty Titus and soulful Lucius, who give the show an "Upstairs, Downstairs" effect by taking the show out of the temples and into the chaotic streets of the city. It turns out that Rome wasn't glorious at all. It looks much more like Calcutta during rush hour. And it wasn't all pristine white marble, either. One of the revelations of "Rome" is that all the temples and statues are painted in Mediterranean shades of red, green and yellow, just as they were way back before the colors faded away.

But the color that often dominates "Rome" is blue, as in risque. The Romans weren't shy about their bodies—remember those unisex toilets—and "Rome" isn't afraid of them, either. We see them bathing and fornicating, and we see full-frontal men and women. "Fair is fair," says Bruno Heller, the show's co-creator. "The women were not more liberal than the men. You have to show that and not be coy about it."

One character is nude far more often than the rest. Her name is Atia, and she is Caesar's niece. Atia will do anything to get her family ahead. When she wants to impress Caesar with a white stallion, she sleeps with the local horse merchant. She sleeps with him again to get him to kill her daughter Octavia's husband so that she can make a more advantageous union. And just to keep all her political options open, Atia also becomes Mark Antony's lover. The woman is simply too busy to get dressed. (Though Atia does wear a flowing white gown in one of the show's most shocking scenes, in which she stands under a gored bull and gets showered in blood as part of a purification ritual. It's like "Carrie" with large livestock.) Fortunately, Atia is played by Polly Walker ("Enchanted April"), who looks as if she stepped out of a Pre-Raphaelite painting. All of the acting in "Rome" is excellent—as always in Hollywood, the Romans are all played by British actors—but Walker chews the scenery right down to the cobblestone streets. She's the most deliciously evil mother to hit the screen since Nancy Marchand became Livia Soprano.

... I'm somewhat confused about this Atia (the future Augustus' mater); whence comes this story linking her to Mark Antony?