I went into the Netflix tv series Troy: Fall of a City expecting a vast canvass, a lot of spectacular special effects, and nonstop beefcake. After all, a new take on one of the most familiar stories in the world has to have something to justify the retelling.
The first episode was promising, Paris Prince of Troy meeting a mysterious group of beings who might be gods. Zeus (Hakeem Kae-Kazim) asks him to choose who is superior: Hera (power), Athena (wisdom), or Aphrodite (beauty). When he chooses beauty, the others in a rage vow to shatter his world.
Very interesting, very evocative. It goes downhill from there.
Troy is the story of a battle between the gods, with humans their unwilling pawns. Paris, the Prince of Troy, kidnaps Helen, Princess of Sparta, to the consternation of her husband Menelaus (Jonas Armstrong, above). The Spartans and their allies lay siege to Troy, a siege that lasts for ten long, gruelling years. In the Iliad, Homer covers only a few weeks in the story; his Odyssey focuses on the minor character Odysseus (Joseph Mawle, left) trying to get home. Other ancient authors have filled in the rest, explored interesting byways and asides, speculated about the lives of the characters before and after the War, given other minor characterstheir own epics. You couldn't cover all of it in a hundred tv series.
Troy: Fall of a City tries to.
The result is a jumble of people, name upon name splattering across the stage: Troilus, Menelaus, Xanthus, Diomedes, Ajax, Aeneas, Agamemnon, Thersites. Their stories are minimized or ignored. The famous are shuffled off to the side. Hesion (who?) gets as much air time as Priam.
I have no idea who is who. I've read The Iliad, The Odyssey, In Search of the Trojan War, The World of Homer, and several books on ancient Greek mythology, literature, culture, and history. Half the time I have no idea what's going on.
The war itself is minimized -- very few battle scenes, mostly at night -- to make room for a domestic drama.
Helen has not been kidnapped; she has chosen Paris due to "true love" -- they discuss how much they love each other a lot . Plus she likes Troy because it is a haven of women's rights, with none of the sexism that is endemic in Sparta (no, Homer doesn't mention that). But some of the Trojans resent her; she has trouble fitting in (understandably, since no matter how many times her allies say "You're not responsible for all of this," she absolutely is).
A soap opera.
There are lots of gay characters in The Iliad, but none here (that I know of; there's not much time for romance). Achilles (David Gyasi, left) has a bisexual three-way.
Not a lot of beefcake. Most modern movies and tv shows populate the ancient world with Boris Vallejo-style super-bodybuilders, but here we see only occasional nondescript physiques, like Tom Weston Jones as Hector.
The muscular cast members keep covered.
And the gods appear only briefly. This is a naturalistic Bronze Age soap opera.
A very, very dull one.