I know I keep saying that in Decline of the West terms we’re all currently living in Rome, circa 400 AD. But now, on TV, there is actual proof of this in the form of a truly appalling reality series called Bromans (ITV2, Thursdays).
Bromans is like a cross between Love Island and Carry On Cleo, so shamelessly low, tacky and brain-dead that it makes Geordie Shore look like Kenneth Clark’s Civilisation. Basically, a bunch of ridiculously buff lads strip off and participate in crap gladiatorial contests in which no one dies (thus entirely defeating the object), while their hot blonde girlfriends smoulder pointlessly in scanty outfits, and say stupid things like ‘I’ve gone 2,000 years back. I’ve never lived that far back.’ Then they have a typical cocktail party, just like used to happen in Imperial Rome, and — we are led to assume — shag one another.
What I like best about Bromans is its rugged integrity. There’s none of that relentless PC hectoring that Rod Liddle was rightly bemoaning the other day: it’s probably the most accurate reflection anywhere on TV of what young men and women are still really like; and because it’s all done ironically, clumsily and on the cheap it slips under the Guardianista outrage police’s radar.
Obviously, though, I’m not suggesting you should waste time watching it. Instead, what you need is your new favourite Netflix series, Suburra. It’s a drama, set in contemporary Rome (see how cunningly I themed this week’s review), which people are calling the Italian answer to Narcos. Just as in real life, every stratum of society, from the church and the political class downwards, is rancid with corruption and simmering violence, yet redeemed, somehow — almost — by the vestiges of style, glamour and a classical aura with which everyone is imbued in the Eternal City.
You’re straight in there (plot spoiler alert): an influential cardinal, noted for his probity and self-flagellating piety, is caught with his trousers down at an orgy so stupendously lush and inviting it could almost have been shot by Paolo Sorrentino. The cardinal’s fixer bills it as ‘carefree time’ — a wonderful euphemism, which I hope will become part of all our vocabularies. (‘Darling, the boys have asked me on a jaunt to Amsterdam next weekend for a spot of carefree time. Would you mind awfully?’)
At once, three young hyaenas descend on the carrion: Lele, a middle-class undergraduate and policeman’s son, well on the way to deeply disappointing his old dad; Aureliano, the hot-headed, trigger-happy, snappily coiffed son of a local crime boss who, a bit like Theon Greyjoy, has been supplanted in his father’s affection by his more savvy sister; and Spadino, the Lamborghini-driving, closeted gay son from a rival crime gang the Sintis. They loathe each other. They’re natural enemies. But in the festering cesspit that is Rome, lucre conquers all to unite them in an unlikely partnership.
Definitely my favourite thing so far are the Sintis. I noticed that in the Radio Times piece I cribbed the names and details from, the author sought to distance himself from the notion that they might, ahem, be ‘gypsies’. Hello? Their outrageous pikeyness is the entire point. For the arranged, dynastic nuptials of reluctant (for obvious reasons) Spadino and his dark-haired gypsy maid, they’ve recreated the Trevi fountain in their garden. Everyone in the extended family lives cheek by jowl in an open-plan palace of unspeakably vulgar bling resembling a reclamation yard flouncified by Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen.
All the other gangs utterly despise them because of their grisly haircuts, their surly features and, obviously, because they’re pikeys. But you, the viewer, are rooting for them all the way. Camp, smiley Spadino, especially, because he’s such a card. And his jolie-laide bride, the minx, who’s clearly not going to take his utter lack of interest in her without a fight…
Obviously, till you’ve seen it, this won’t mean much to you. But once you have, you’ll agree with me, I know. It really isn’t often you enter a dramatic world so fully realised, where you get to know the characters and a quite convoluted plotline so effortlessly, and where, vilely compromised though everyone is, you become so quickly drawn into their tragic plight and their pop-Shakespearean moral dilemmas. The settings are great too: the splendour of the cardinal’s apartment; the rundown beachfront in Ostia, object of the epic power struggle; the Senegalese tart with a heart’s fairy-tale love nest.
I could go on, but there’s really no point. Just stop whatever you’re doing, log on to Netflix and bingewatch, now.