Ellen Gray: 'Spartacus' prequel airs tonight

Posted: January 21, 2011

SPARTACUS: GODS OF THE ARENA. 10 tonight, Starz.

WHAT'S MISSING from "Spartacus: Gods of the Arena," which premieres on Starz tonight?

Well, for starters, Spartacus, who appears only briefly in a flashback - or more accurately, a flash-forward - at the beginning of the six-episode prequel the network ordered when Andy Whitfield was first diagnosed with cancer. (Whitfield, now being treated for a recurrence of his non-Hodgkin lymphoma, has been replaced in the title role by Liam McIntyre, Starz announced this week.)

Center stage then in "Gods of the Arena" (besides the requisite spurts of blood and flashes of breasts) are John Hannah and Lucy Lawless as their characters' younger selves, Quintus Batiatus, who will eventually become Spartacus' master, and his wife, Lucretia.

"They fix us in post [production]. That's not a lie," Lawless said of her five-years younger Lucretia, who nevertheless looks more like the actress does in real life than she did on-screen in Season 1. "But my character did not abuse the servants in the beginning, and she was devoted to her husband. And so you get to see the raw Satan, and that's always fun to play."

Lucretia 2.0 is expected back for Season 2, having apparently survived what looked like a serious injury - Lawless calls it "a little poke in the tummy" - but Hannah's Batiatus, who had his head nearly severed, won't be able to make it.

Reason enough, I'd say, to spend six more hours with the actor who - along with Lawless and Peter Mensah as Oenomaus - offers the best reason to watch this way-over-the-top bloodfest.

'An Idiot Abroad'

Some people see the world under the tutelage of travel writer Rick Steves.

Karl Pilkington gets his itineraries from a couple of guys he calls Rick and Steve and the rest of us know as Ricky Gervais and his producing partner Stephen Merchant.

The result: "An Idiot Abroad," which premieres at 10 p.m. tomorrow on the Science Channel - yes, the Science Channel - with a visit to the Great Wall of China by the determinedly uncultured Pilkington, whose blend of misinformation and mistrust of new information is the source of much of the comedy in HBO's "The Ricky Gervais Show," an animated version of the podcasts Gervais, Merchant and Pilkington have been making together since 2005.

And if you think Gervais was hard on the crowd at the Golden Globes, you should see how he treats Pilkington, whose visits to the Wonders of the World the caustic comic is billing as his most expensive practical joke ever.

In a satellite press conference earlier this month, Pilkington was asked if he actually thinks of himself as a moron.

"No," he replied. "And I think when people watch the program, they will realize that I am not . . . They'll see themselves in me, I think. Most normal people, you know, travelers who go to foreign places, it is a shock to the system. And I think they will see themselves in me. But it does get on my nerves with - you know, they're always annoying me. . . . People say, 'Oh, it must be great being mates with Ricky,' but it isn't."

Send e-mail to graye@phillynews.com.

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