Before the opening credits on the Discovery Channel's* latest attempt at repackaging the hackneyed and the obvious as new and starting, "Who Killed Julius Caesar?" even started to roll, my father asked the best question of all:
Who the hell cares about a murder that happened 2000 years ago?
Well, unfortunately, I do. And so do lots of other people, apparently, or Discovery Networks and all of its ilk would not continue making this kind of dubious crap and calling it documentaries, nor would its tame stable of so-called critics keep praising it in tidy, blurb-ready sound bites.
As the tone of the above might indicate, I was not, perhaps, in the most receptive of moods to take in such fare late of a Sunday night, but I am a sucker for all things ancient, and hadn't the Discovery-owned History Channel done a pretty good two-parter on the Spartans a while back (superior to the PBS show on the Greeks several years ago that never even mentioned the battle of Thermopylae! To put this in perspective for non-classics nerds, this would be like doing an in-depth series on America during World War II without mentioning Pearl Harbor or the Battle of Midway, or one on the space program without discussing the Apollo 11 mission, a hilarious, glaring oversight upon which not enough derision could ever be heaped in 300 lifetimes – one for each of the Spartans who fell there)?
Plus, well, like pretty much everyone else in North America, I'm also a fan of CSI, and get off ever so slightly on watching high tech gadgets employed to tease out the tiniest clues.
Such was the promise of "Who Killed Julius Caesar?," the opening act of which strongly suggested that the version of this famous death we all cherished from paging through our Plutarch, leafing through our Livy, shuffling through our Shakespeare, was going to be proven wholly wrong, or at least inaccurate or incomplete, using modern methods and models unavailable to previous investigators.
Such was the promise, but the delivery, while entertaining, fell quite a bit short.
What unfolded before viewers through an otherwise perfectly good hour was an Italian law enforcement bureaucrat who figured he knew better than Suetonius, et all, and was damned well going to prove it, even though the scene of the crime had been obliterated, the body was 2000 years gone to dust and ashes, the culprits beyond the reach of the law, even the language of the drama largely dead. Said bureaucrat spends a lot of time riding around in the backseat of an official car (and we complain about our tax dollars at work! But then again, we've never knowingly had a porn star making policy either. Trade offs, trade offs...), shuttling around modern Rome, reenacting the murder to determine how many people could have actually accounted for the documented 23 stab wounds, and interviewing a neuroscientist with either a strange pan-European accent or a daunting, Sister Wendy-caliber speech impediment or both about exactly what kind of epilepsy poor old Julius actually did have.