Plebs: Soldiers Of Rome | Review of the comedy's feature-length finale © ITV
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Plebs: Soldiers Of Rome

Review of the comedy's feature-length finale

It’s a sign of how much Plebs has become important to ITV that its feature-length farewell episode was heralded as one of the launch highlights of its newly revamped, and retitled, streaming service ITVX.

A lot of money has also been lavished on the show, at least in comparison with many other digital offerings. Visual effects and a sizeable cast of extras, all needing costumes, make a decent fist of capturing the majesty of Imperial Rome. Even if our hapless heroes are soon despatched out of the city walls and into the more budget-friendly woods.

The rule that sitcoms abandon their usual settings as they stretch to 90 minutes is an axiom that’s been followed from Are You Being Served? to The Inbetweeners. Here, rather than go on holiday Marcus Gallo (Tom Rosenthal), his slave Grumio (Ryan Sampson), and Jason Brindisi (Jon Pointing)  are despatched to the northern frontier of the Roman Empire, having signed up for the army with the promise of an easy life, free chicken and women falling at their feet.

The Emperor’s promise of a golden age of peace proves as empty as Grumio’s head, and our new recruits, plus hanger-on and lickspittle Aurelius (Tom Basden) soon find themselves on the front line against the barbarian hordes. Not that said hordes like the term ‘barbarian’ as it's ‘a reductive label that homogenises an array of diverse communities and their unique identities’.

Applying modern sensibilities to the decidedly unwoke ancient era has always been one of the running jokes of Plebs, though writers Basden and Sam Leifer wisely deploy it only sparingly. Instead they focus on their characters, reflecting various archetypes of young men, from awkward insecurities to wanting to shag anything that moves. And plenty of plot, too, as our protagonists train with, then desert, their legion – getting into all sorts of escapades as they do.

Plebs isn’t reinventing the chariot with any of this, but it’s an entertaining romp, cracking on from misadventure to misadventure with enough pace that the extended running time never feels like a stretch. The odd moment of poignancy is even allowed into the script for this fitting finale - never for long, mind, as we must let idiots be idiots…

• Plebs: Soldiers Of Rome is available now on ITVX

Review date: 9 Dec 2022
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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