Ian Wolf

Gigglebox Weekly #81 – Plebs

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Plebs is set in Ancient Rome in the year 27 B.C. and follows the exploits of three lads living in the eternal city: lowly scribe Marcus (Tom Rosenthal), his best friend Stylax (Joel Fry) and Marcus’s lazy slave Grumio (Ryan Sampson).

The idea behind Plebs is that life today isn’t all that dissimilar. The lads try to get ahead in life, work and love, but always fail.

The series, which began with a double-bill, has its strong points. Rosenthal, Fry and Sampson are impressive leads. The supporting cast’s good too, with Doon Mackichan as Marcus and Stylax’s boss, Karl Theobald as their landlord, and co-writer Tom Basden as a jobsworth “waterboy”, whose only job is holding a jug of water all day.

The plot lines are interesting too. The opening episodes saw the boys trying to get into an orgy, and Marcus becoming jealous of a gladiator who is pulling his love interest. This gladiator, however, does indicate one of this show’s problems – namely ITV2’s idea of an impressive guest, Danny Dyer.

There’s a bigger problem however: taste. Some of the gags were a bit grim. In the gladiator episode there are some pretty violent death scenes being played for comic effect, which are rather disgusting because of their realism. You can sort of get away with it if the violence is more cartoonish, but the way it was done here was a bit too shocking.

However this wasn’t as bad as the final gag in the second episode. In an earlier scene Dyer’s gladiator makes a practical joke with a severed hand. Then the final scene sees Stylax in bed, presumably naked, taking this hand and slipping it under the sheets. You can no doubt guess what he’s going to use it for.

In terms of dark comedy I can cope with most things, but seeing someone using a dead man’s hacked-off hand to give himself sexual pleasure isn’t one of them. I think the fact it was so unexpected made it worse. If it had built up to the gag they might have got away with it, but diving into the deep end like that felt out of place.

Plebs is something of a mixed bag then. There are taste issues that might not go away, but the performances were, on the whole, good. A show that deserves further examination.