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A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this masterful historical drama enjoys the freedoms of its pay-cable home: It's full of extreme violence, graphic sexual scenes, and crude language. In one scene, a main character walks up to a soldier and draws his sword blade across the man's throat, watching as blood begins to pour out of the soldier's mouth. In another scene, a death blow is dealt off screen, but the killer parades through the city with the victim's bloody, decapitated head in his hand. Sex scenes are explicit (and sometimes acrobatic), but not drawn out. All kinds of pairings are featured -- men and women, men and men, men and boys, etc. In other words? Not for kids.
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What's the story?
This HBO drama focuses on the period in Rome during which the republic was crumbling and the empire was forming, with Julius Caesar's assassination right in the middle. The narrative follows the lives of two friends, soldiers Titus Pullo (Ray Stevenson) and Lucius Vorenus (Kevin McKidd) -- both real historical figures, but their lives are fictionalized here -- as they work for Caesar (Ciaran Hinds) and later Marc Antony (James Purefoy). Along with the soldiers' everyday dramas involving wives, children, friends, and enemies, Rome richly details the exploits of great historical figures like Cleopatra, Brutus, Cicero, Augustus, and others. History comes alive -- and it's more brutal, sexy, vulgar, and weird than a 10th-grade textbook could ever express.
Is it any good?
Like most of HBO's serial dramas (The Sopranos, Six Feet Under, Deadwood), Rome is riveting, gorgeous, well written and acted, and for adults only. Set against the vivid backdrop of the city of Rome -- with its teeming masses, sewage-strewn streets, and ragamuffin children -- the politics of a great nation unfold. Decisions affecting thousands hinge on the caprices of a few rich men and women, who play at politics largely for personal gain and rarely concern themselves with the common man. In this respect, Rome links history to modern day life: While today's leaders may not wear togas, it's easy to imagine them brokering deals, gossiping, and forming powerful allegiances just like the Roman senators.
Produced and written by Bruno Heller, the show is fast-paced and sometimes difficult to follow. Much happens off screen, and viewers must stay alert to catch the nuanced plot developments. Most characters speak with British accents, which are usually easy to understand, but some viewers may have difficulty catching every word. In addition to the show's graphic sexual content, violence is common and often extreme. Some parents might feel that the benefits of showing teens that history is a living, breathing, raw, exciting thing will outweigh concerns about exposure to sex, violence, and vulgar language. But most will want to save this gruesome history lesson for adulthood.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how history is depicted by the media. Do dramatic interpretations like this make history more interesting and exciting? How accurate do you think this show is? Does watching the show make you think about other periods of history differently? What are the benefits and drawbacks about learning history through TV shows and movies? What are the roadblocks to learning about or enjoying history in general?