The Cambridge Geek

Bad Gladiator

It is ancient Rome, and the world of entertainment needs a steady stream of willing bodies to enter the arena and fight "for the glory of Rome" as gladiators. The pinnacle of a gladiator's career is fighting in the Colosseum, under the watchful eye and vengeful/merciful thumb of the Emperor.

Unfortunately, Atticus' family can't really afford the bribe needed to get him that prestigious position. Hell, they can barely pay the bribe needed to keep him out of the army. (I can only assume he's got not very spurry bones.)

His first position then is out on the fringes of the empire, in the smallest, least profitable arena to be found, run by the not very keen Domitia. Desperate to sell off the land for other purposes, Domitia is responsible for maintaining the entertainment in her little town, but her heart is most definitely not in it, and it's now mostly functioning as a tip.

Atticus must therefore attempt to find his way into fights with brutal animals (rats/weasels), arena protestors (it serves bad coffee) and the local head gladiator Magnus (a dirty old man). Magnus has reasons of his own for not wanting to improve the working conditions, namely the fact that he's Domitia's sexual plaything, and he very much likes it that way. And finally Domitia's daughter Claudia is desperate to become a gladiator, against the wishes of her mother, but with the support of the besotted Atticus.

The show takes the common approach of historical sitcoms where the general set dressing is appropriate to the time/place, but the majority of the plots are parallels to present day issues. Examples include the quality of the coffee at independents, the microtransactional model for weapons and armour supply, and the army recruiter's constant shouts of "support the troops!"

It's a comedy that doesn't seem to quite know where its focus lies. There are a few nice setting gags about say lead poisoning or the fickle nature of the arena audience, "give the snake a sword!", but a lot of the time it feels a bit childish. The longest running joke of the series is that Domitia and Magnus are both old, and having sex. Absolutely disgusting, in the view of the younger characters. Now, the dirty old woman is a treasured trope, but I've always preferred it as a slight tweak on societal norms, where it's a fun thing, rather than a source of humiliation. It doesn't help that the joke is somewhat run into the ground by excessive repetition.

That problem applies to a few other japes as well, such as Atticus' nom de guerre of "Jaculator". (This is a frustrating one, because technically it's a clever link tothe correct Latin term for someone who fights with a javelin - you can see the root to the modern usage - but at the same time it's just used for cheap chuckles.) Similarly the final episode finds the word "turd" a lot funnier than this particular listener. Maybe I'm simply not the right audience, but it didn't have me laughing along, and I'm not likely to carry on with any second series.

And now a new feature of these posts, have the first episode:

Score 3

Tagged: Audio fiction Comedy Cast Sitcom Workplace/Employment Serial