THE SHOW "Spartacus: Vengeance"
WHEN | WHERE Friday at 10 p.m. on Starz
REASON TO WATCH The rebellion continues, led by a new warrior.
CATCHING UP The house of Batiatus (John Hannah) fell in an operatically blood-soaked finale, with his indentured warriors Spartacus and Crixus (Manu Bennett) attaining their freedom and vowing revenge upon Rome. This second season -- "Vengeance" -- finds the renegades outside the gates of Capua. Roman general Glaber (Craig Parker), who condemned Spartacus and his wife to slavery in the first place, is now a rising politician in the Senate. He is ordered to kill Spartacus (Liam McIntyre) or risk losing all those cushy congressional perks (seriously). Spartacus also has to decide whether to enjoy the free life or seek vengeance. You know which choice he will make. . . .
MY SAY Let's zip past all the blood, gore, occasional beheading, a sliced arm or two and an orgy scene Fridaynight that graphically combines sex and death to get to the question that fans really care about: How's Liam? Liam McIntyre is the Aussie newcomer with maybe the single toughest job in television this season -- replacing Andy Whitfield. Whitfield was the gifted actor who originated the role of Spartacus two years ago and who died in September after a long battle with non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
The simple answer is "fine." McIntyre has the requisite looks and skills, and he fills the screen with appropriate menace. But the more complicated answer is that he may be just a little too clear of eye and square of jaw. Whitfield's Spartacus had a touch of melancholy about him -- the slave who had lost everything, including his beloved wife, Sura (Erin Cummings, in the first season), and had been forsaken by the gods. There was nothing left to lose, and Whitfield brought a savage, soulful bravura to the performance. McIntyre, by contrast, has no hint of tragedy about him. Whitfield's Spartacus was a little more biblical. McIntyre's is a little more Hollywood.
BOTTOM LINE Everything fans loved about the first season -- which improved dramatically over its course, by the way -- is here. Everyone is not. McIntyre is good, but he's not Whitfield, either. Will fans embrace him? That's up to them to decide.