The Weekend Playlist: Goodbye, Spartacus, Hello, Da Vinci; Louie C.K. Stand-Up
Tom Riley | Photo Credits: Starz
Two battered, tragic warriors meet face to face before their climactic skirmish, and there's at least one thing they can agree upon (besides the desire to kill each other): "There is no justice. Not in this world." What, you were expecting a happy ending to Starz' bloody breakout hit Spartacus? (Apologies if that's a spoiler.)
The series finale (Friday, 9/8c) justifies this last season's subtitle, War of the Damned, with a truly epic clash of historic titans. It's up to its bared knees in graphic gore as usual, but the finale is steeped even further in stirring demonstrations and declarations of honor, sacrifice and a willingness to die for the cause of freedom. "Whatever happens ... we decide our fates, not you," proclaims Spartacus (Liam McIntyre), leader of the outnumbered slave army, during his secret meeting with Roman "Imperator" Crassus (Simon Merrells). Unlike past seasons, when the Roman antagonists were mostly craven dupes, neither Crassus nor his second-in-command Julius Caesar (Todd Lasance) are fools — but neither is Spartacus, who still has some bold and unexpected maneuvers up his shield during this primal and visceral encounter of fire, blood and literal and metaphorical guts.
With the departure of the strangely addictive and outrageously lurid Spartacus, Starz re-imagines another chapter of world history in the cheesy new Da Vinci's Demons (Friday, 10/9c), which presents the legendary genius and very model of a Renaissance man as an action hero. You won't need a special code to deduce that this over-the-top send-up of costume-drama melodrama is less than a masterpiece. On the plus side, Tom Riley cuts a dashing figure as the arrogant, lusty young Leonardo Da Vinci, an impatient and oversexed visionary who captures the attention of 15th-century Florence with his imaginative inventions. These gizmos (which we often see take animated shape in his mind) acquire a more militaristic bent when the powerful Medici family enlists him to fend off threats from the corrupt Vatican. Demons is possessed by pretentiousness when it tries to be serious and by silliness whenever Leonardo becomes an instant swashbuckler.
If you're seeking a slightly less cartoonish period drama, Showtime launches the third season of The Borgias (Sunday, 10/9c), where the fate of poisoned Pope Alexander (Jeremy Irons) is in jeopardy while his many enemies scheme to fill the possible (but don't count on it) papal void.
Chances are more likely you'll opt for the grand fantasy of HBO's Game of Thrones (Sunday, 9/8c). This triumphant hit continues to pick up narrative momentum in the season's third episode, titled "Walk of Punishment," which refers to one of the more grim aspects of Slaver's Bay, where Daenerys is reminded, "There's a beast in every man, and it stirs when your put a sword in his hand." Or maybe a dragon. Regarding swords in the hand, Kingslayer Jaime Lannister may have met his match with his latest captors.
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A LITTLE LOUIS ... Is way better than nothing. It will be a long wait, until sometime in 2014, before Louis C.K. returns to FX with a new batch of Louie episodes, but we'll manage if it means more displays of comic brilliance like his new HBO stand-up special, Louis C.K.: Oh My God (Saturday, 10/9c). Filmed in February before a Phoenix audience in the round, this concert performance shows the caustic philosopher slob in a cheerfully curmudgeonly mood. He's 45 now — "I'm either halfway through a healthy life or about done with a not-so-healthy life" — and while his hour-long set is laced with outrageous and melancholy observations about dating, divorce and the cruelty of the planet's food chain, the takeaway is that even if the ordeal of putting on your socks is "the worst part of any day," life is good as long as "you get to put bacon in your mouth!" Considering how difficult the other species (including the source of bacon) have it, Louis figures, "It must be awful to be other kinds of stuff. I'm glad I'm this." We are, too.