Salve! Three young men in Ancient Rome doing what three young men would be doing today except with more crudity, nudity and ribald humour. Given my age and TV viewing preferences, it does seem unlikely that I would fall for such juvenile behaviour in a bawdy sit-com like ‘Plebs’. However, you doubters, I have fallen for it.
Promo blurb reads “Whilst others revel in the grandeur, opulence and splendour of Rome, low-on-the-totem-pole Marcus (Tom Rosenthal), Stylax (Joel Fry), their apathetic slave Grumio (Ryan Sampson) and cheeky Jason (Jonathan Pointing) are more interested in doing what lads the world over do – which usually involves women.” More often than not, the desire to earn money gets them into some funny situations. It works for me, I even sing the theme music!
The actors, the location, the storylines, oh, the storylines! Any writer looking for inspiration will get it from ‘Plebs’. The circumstances in which Grumio, Stylax, Marcus and Jason find themselves are anchored in reality but always contain a twist – a comical and clever twist. I think ‘Plebs’ has similarities to earlier episodes of ‘Seinfeld’ when the world was young and fresh and madcap. ‘Seinfeld’ language was polite contemporary but ‘Plebs’ is uncouth contemporary.
Extract from The Guardian TV & Radio interview in which Roman historian Dr Anna Clark is surprised there are quite a few accuracies. "It's set in 27BC, when Rome really did feel like the centre of the universe (to the Romans at least). The main characters – Marcus, Stylax and their slave Grumio – live cheek by jowl in rented rooms, overseen by a dodgy landlord. From what the ruins of Pompeii tell us, this seems to be how many people lived, though I suspect actual Roman landlords were much less pleasant."
Working well together with differing comedic styles (think ‘Upstart Crow’) the permanent actors are Tom Rosenthal, Ryan Sampson, Joel Fry (replaced by Jonathan Pointing) Tom Basden and Karl Theobald, whereas Doon Mackichan, Sophie Colquhoun, Lydia Rose Bewley and the supporting cast change accordingly. To quote the executive producers Caroline Leddy and Sam Leifer “As has become ‘Plebs’ tradition, a host of dazzling adversaries will be stepping into the Roman arena, with special cameos coming from top acting and comedic talent.”
An early IMDb reviewer, Niki Timpson, hit the nail on the head with these comments:
“Loving this – it’s pretty much The Inbetweeners do Ancient Rome. Class. The story focuses around three guys living in a pretty dull area of Rome – not Gladiators, nor Senators, just blokes – hence the title. Tom Rosenthal plays the very straight Marcus, who has the most resentful slave ever in the fabulous Grumio (Ryan Sampson, rocking a hairdo like Howard from Big Bang, and pretty much channelling Baldrick with a grumpy attitude) They live with the over-sexed Stylax (Joel Fry), next door to the gorgeous but dim Cynthia (Sophie Colquhoun) and her scary and whip smart slave, Metella (Lydia Rose Bewley) – both from Briton. A must-see for Inbetweeners fans, do not miss the second episode with Danny Dyer being a very macho but sensitive Gladiator. Brilliant.”
There’s been a lot of water along the Roman aqueduct since that review (four series, in fact) but the quality of ‘fortitudinem et honorem’ remains.
Over the course of 30 episodes I have spied familiar British actors, always excellent in their roles. However, if pressed, I would have to say tetchy food-obsessed Grumio is my favourite character. Actor Ryan Sampson undergoes a complete change to play the role. It’s worth watching the show for his subtle underplaying of Grumio’s antics, especially the snail racing and chicken episodes.
Here are the stats if you want to track it down––
Executive producers: Caroline Leddy, Sam Leifer
Producers: Tom Basden, Caroline Leddy, Sam Leifer, Teddy Leifer
Location: Nu Boyana Studios, Bulgaria
Running time: 25 minutes
Production company: Rise Films
Original network: ITV2
Distributor: Universal Pictures
ADDENDUM: Should you decide to view ‘Plebs’ on DVD, remember it’s NOT suitable for children. If you are a sensitive type, I suggest you leave your prim, more formal self outside in the garden sipping tea.
♥ Gretchen Bernet-Ward