Rome is something of a disappointment. Despite months of hype and its thoroughbred bloodline of previous HBO dramas, it turns out to be nothing all that special. I know some folks who swear by it, but they are mostly history geeks who eat up pretty much any historical drama that follows the known events reasonably well. I can't speak to the historical accuracy of Rome, and I don't really care about it. What I do care about is that it is dramatically limp and I fear it may be symbolic of the decline of HBO original programming.
The fundamental problem is one of characterization. With a couple of notable exceptions that I will get to later, none of these Romans are all that interesting. The show covers one of the most storied eras in human history; events and personalities that have compelled works by the likes of Shakespeare and Shaw; events that could even be portrayed as having a particularly poignant bearing on the current world, yet in the midst of all this dramatic opportunity we get only two dimensions of these people.
We get a Caesar who is authoritarian above all else. Antony is barely more than an arrogant bully. Cicero is a cowardly schemer. Pompey is a hopeful fool. Cato is a passionate crank. Cleopatra is a drug addled brat. The women are devious scheming cats or mere devices for sex scenes. While all these things are valid as character sketches, we get no depth; none of the shades of gray that let you sympathize with characters and identify with their conflicts. The dialog and direction are straight out of any garden variety TV drama playbook.
Oh, and while I'm at it, someone needs to tell HBO that gratuitous lesbian sex scenes and full frontal male nudity are no longer particularly noteworthy. In fact, they’ve become somewhat precious. It’s not the '90s anymore; you don’t get points for that. While it's all well and good for ogling, it really doesn’t bring anything to the table in terms of dramatic quality, now does it?