Friday, 16 October 2015

Roman Mysteries: Series One (2007)

Calling this "The Famous Five in Ancient Rome" makes for back-to-back reviews where I've kicked things off by comparing what I'm reviewing to another media property, but it fits far too neatly not to be used.  Heck, there are even actually four of them, just like in Enid Blyton's famous books: the kids in that counted their dog "Timmy" as their 5th member.  The characters in this series don't do that (and they have three dogs between them) but the parallels otherwise are rather obvious.  The kids go somewhere, meet some friendly - and some not so friendly - adults, stumble across a mystery and then solve it by some combination of (a) outrageous luck and (b) having two brain cells to rub together.

Of course, the series is not just set in a very different time period to Blyton's novels, but also written in a very different one.  That's generally to its benefit: it's much more diverse in its casting for instance (which is definitely appropriate for the setting), and the villains are never "that foreign looking chap".  It's also got the resources and expertise to depict a pretty accurate version of Roman clothing and buildings.  There's none of the "hang a couple of sheets up and hope for the best" set dressing of I, Claudius here.  Some of the other impacts of being a modern show are probably only a benefit if you are in the target age bracket of the show (which I would say is 8-12).  The writers are clearly aware that kids find few things as intrinsically funny as peeing and pooping, and manage to work some kind of mild scatological humour into most episodes.

The writers also make an effort to work accurate information about Roman society, history and beliefs into the episodes, which I appreciate.  On the other hand, they do rather fall into the trap of giving the central characters very egalitarian, modern day senses of how society should work.  This may also be a flaw in the original books on which this is based: I haven't read them and so can't say for sure.

Overall despite its positives, I can't really recommend Roman Mysteries unless you are an 8-12 year old, or have one you need to keep occupied (while secretly feeding them some learning).  The central plots of the show are generally quite weak and while it is possible for a show to overcome that if it has a sufficiently charming cast of characters (yes, Leverage, I am talking about you), I don't think this one manages that.

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