Plebs (ITV2, Mondays) isn’t awful, which is what I was expecting. A comedy on ITV2 set in ancient Rome with a set-up that sounds like a rip-off Inbetweeners is not something I expect to be anything other than terrible. But it wasn’t. It was packed full of jokes, some of which were good, and it had mainly enjoyable characters and some good acting. Pleasantly surprised would be my overall impression.
The show’s three main characters are Marcus, the nerdy protagonist, Stylax, his overly-confident friend, and their dumb slave Grumio, a sort of Baldrick from Blackadder character. The first episode introduced the trio’s new neighbours Metella and Cynthia, the latter of whom Marcus spends the episode trying to make his girlfriend.
Marcus is a character we’ve seen many times before. He is very similar in tone and attitude to Will from Inbetweeners. The humour drawn from the character is the exact same as that in the E4 show. And then there’s The Big Bang Theory, which has similar characters and a similar set-up.
So it’s not original, and the first episode didn’t offer us much in terms of story or, for that matter, an interesting world, despite being set in the days of the Roman Empire. It was funny though, which is enough for a first episode. Make it funny, and I’ll stick around for a second episode.
Some of the humour was also quite sharp, and the show is at least trying to work out its own comic style, with each character having their own personality-based humour. And it’s fast; the show is packed with jokes that build on top of each other.
The second episode wasn’t as good as the first, but it did build the world out a little more. It could be fun going forward to see modern day bureaucracy transported to ancient Rome. The US show Archer has done this, creating great humour out of grounding the fantastical world of spies and secret agencies in the mundane and the ordinary; human resource managers and accountants and office politics. Plebs seems to be going in the same direction, with plots about workplace complaints and the intricacies of Roman orgies.
The end of episode two had a good moment, as all the characters realised they were responsible for a friend’s death. ‘So there we are; we all killed him.’ This is the type of thing good shows do, from Peep Show to Seinfeld to It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia: they are not afraid to make their own characters unlikable. Plebs certainly shows promise, which is nice, because I originally thought it was going to be utter balls. It’s nice to be surprised.
- ‘I don’t want to meet my future wife while she’s being banged by a couple of centurions.’ ‘So wait till they’re finished.’
- ‘Cob’s the best bit.’ ‘No it isn’t. What’s that grey stuff?’ ‘Oh, that’s just general grey.
- ‘I’m not bothered; I’ve completed it,’ says Grumio after Marcus brakes his ball and cup game.
- ‘I like games. Less keen on cages.’
- ‘This mate of yours who runs the fights?’ ‘Darius.’ ‘I don’t want to know his name.’ ‘Too late, it’s Darius.’
- ‘I thought he’d get over it.’ ‘Maybe he will seeing as it’s all an elaborate stunt. Maybe he had a trap door.’ ‘Or a trap head.’