The HBO series that’s almost better than The Sopranos

Before a single episode of Rome was broadcast, the toga-saturated HBO drama was already being praised as the series that would save the network’s flagging fortunes. Then critics buried it, dismissing Season 1 and ignoring Season 2 in a rush to bid farewell to a certain New Jersey mafia family. But as the second (and, sadly, final) season of Rome arrives on DVD, the show stands on its own as an ambitious, utterly addictive retelling of an uncomfortably familiar period of history.

In chronicling the lives of commoners Lucius Vorenus and Titus Pullo, Rome compresses 14 years of antiquity into 10 episodes: We see Octavian evolve from the last hope of the Republic to another corrupt, power-mad despot, and marvel at the huge villas everyone seems to own. By the end, Mark Antony — arrogant, violent, and played to the hilt by James Purefoy — emerges as the series’ irresistible antihero; though his downfall is inevitable, we still can’t help wishing the Battle of Actium had gone his way.

WATCH HBO’s behind-the-scenes documentary Rome Revealed

BUY Rome: The Complete Second Season

This post is from Observer Short List—an email of three favorite things from people you want to know. Sign up to receive OSL here.

The HBO series that’s almost better than The Sopranos