I was lucky enough to attend the screening of Plebs yesterday; the cast were assembled on beanbags at the front of the room, prompting the director to comment: “Tom Rosenthal sitting on a beanbag eating popcorn and watching himself on the big screen: possibly the most self-indulgent thing I’ve ever seen”. A likeable bunch of lively young actors, the Plebs crew were high-spirited, enthusiastic and justifiably proud of their work.
The plot is fairly straightforward: three guys in their twenties are sharing a flat, two girls move into the apartment above them; hilarity ensues as the boys vie for female attention under the watchful eyes of their amiable landlord and strict boss. The twist: it’s set in ancient Rome. Why? In the words of Sam Leifer, writer & director: “Well, writing about being in your twenties in London today, you won’t get it commissioned.”
On a deeper level, Leifer adds, the scale of Rome brings something special to the series. It’s the juxtaposition of a time when there were gladiators, the Emperor Claudius, and all the trappings of Classical Antiquity, alongside these three normal blokes in a flat. Boys will be boys, whatever the century.
As is so often the case with sitcoms, the first episode didn’t enthral me. As the lights went up and the organisers announced a loo break, I was a little concerned that I’d find the second episode a bit… meh. But I’d encourage any viewers with similar experiences to stick with it. The actors grow into their characters throughout episode two, with particular comic gold coming from Ryan Sampson – in the series, a nose-picking slave; in real life, surprisingly attractive – and of course the wonderful Doon Mackichan.
The series was filmed in Bulgaria, alongside the set of 300 and a neighbouring pack of wild dogs. And there is a significant amount of research behind the sitcom: creator Sam Leifer did a four-year Classics degree, answering the traditional parental “What are you going to do with that?” question with a resounding “Fine, I’ll write a f**king sitcom!”
This new spin on the well-trodden idea of twenty-somethings in amusing living situations will arrive shortly on ITV2. Starring Tom Rosenthal (Friday Night Dinner), Joel Fry (White Van Man, Trollied), and Ryan Sampson (Work Experience, After You’ve Gone), with a predictably stellar performance from Doon Mackichan (“Oh, it was a pleasure. It was a pleasure… to play a ballbreaker. Again.”), Plebs is definitely worth a watch.