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Spartacus: Blood and Sand: The Complete First Season / Party Down: Season Two



ie=UTF8&tag=oklahgazet-20&linkCode=as2&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=B003PIUBZS">Spartacus: Blood and Sand" and "Party Down."

Yet the two couldn't be more different. The former, a guilty pleasure and ratings hit. The latter, critically acclaimed and a ratings loser. The former, currently beset by its leading man's battle with cancer. The latter, canceled.

And both, now on DVD sets worth saving your pennies for.

A very loose retelling of the renowned Greek warrior, "Spartacus" comes from producers Sam Raimi and Rob Tapert, who made a mint in the 1990s by bringing Hercules and Xena to the boob tube. They kind of do the same thing here, only through a highly stylized "300" lens, and taking ample advantage of Starz's order for an R-rated action series.

Andy Whitfield plays the hero, who is captured and given the death sentence, while his wife (Erin Cummings) is kidnapped. Thrown into the arena to die, Spartacus instead kicks major ass, and Batiatus (John Hannah) scoops him up to train him as a kind of gladiator MVP. In between all the bread and circus, much sex is had, with a lot of the grinding courtesy of Batiatus' wicked wife, Lucretia (Lucy Lawless, aka Xena herself and Mrs. Tapert).

Coming off like a sweaty adult soap with buckets of blood spilled along the way, "Spartacus" isn't for everyone. Many viewers who bailed complain that it's cheesy, which is exactly what I dig about it. The green-screen production favors slow-motion battles that tend toward "The Matrix," and every panel looks like it were built for the comics.

The show would be twice as good at half the length, as the stories can get bogged down in their own chewy dialogue, but at least check out the pilot, plus "The Thing in the Pit" and "Whore" to get a taste. If you like what you see, roughly a dozen hours of scowling performances, rippled muscles and rewritten history await, as do a wealth of special features on this four-disc collection.

When it comes to "Party Down," however, not a single half-hour should be missed. Put to death before its time, the sitcom's final 10 episodes sit among two discs, yet virtually without extras (less than five minutes total), suggesting Starz knows its bread is buttered by action warriors, and not wannabe actors.

Rather than repeat its first season, "Party" shook up its premise of L.A.'s least competent catering company by flip-flopping the roles of boss and the bossed, by having former bartender Henry (Adam Scott) become the wrangler, as former manager Ron (Ken Marino) comes crawling back with his tail between his legs, after his bid at running a Souper Crackers franchise fails.

Furthermore, Henry's romance with co-worker Casey (Lizzy Caplan) has cooled to a halt, and with Jane Lynch having jumped ship at the end of the previous year, Megan Mullally's spacey stage mom Lydia is added to the cast. Not only is Mullally unrecognizable, but she's far funnier than expected (especially after those stupid "Turn the Tub Around" butter commercials tainted her rep). Witness her trying coke for the first time.

Among the crew's disastrous gigs this go-round are catering an orgy where no guest gets that it's an orgy, actor Steve Guttenberg's birthday party that he forgot to cancel, a college athlete's draft day shindig that exposes a career-killing secret, and a funeral for a man who left behind more kids than his family knew about. Discomfort is the name of the game, and the enormously entertaining ensemble pulls it all off with near-effortless panache.

I already miss it. "?Rod Lott

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