Plebs the ITV2 comedy set in Ancient Rome, is returning for a third series with a host of new cameos as well as the old favourites we’ve grown to love.
So far this year, British television has been dominated by drama. Excellent drama at that. But one genre with seems to be the most difficult for channels to crack, is scripted comedy. ITV in particular have this problem.
The main channel only has Birds of a Feather and Benidorm, and both those air at the start of the year meaning for around 10 months of the year, ITV are a comedy-free channel.
As for sister channel ITV2, there's only The Keith Lemon Sketch Show and Plebs, which is returning for a third series.
If the first two series passed you by, Plebs is set in Ancient Rome and follows three under-achievers, or plebs if you will; Marcus (Tom Rosenthal, Flat TV), Stylax (Joel Fry, You, Me & The Apocalypse) and their slave Grumio (Ryan Sampson, Glitchy).
The first series took place in 27BC, the second in 26BC and this new series, (yes you guessed it) takes place one year on, in 25BC.
Emperor Augustus Caesar is still the most powerful man in the known world and Marcus, Stylax and Grumio continue to languish somewhere near the other end of the food chain. As the ancestors of ‘generation rent’, they live in a squalid block in the worst part of town, working dead-end jobs for Rome’s third largest grain supply company. And though the Games are in town, they can’t get tickets for any event... not even the pig chase!
But an encounter with a fiery Gallic activist, Delphine (Bella Dayne) might at least improve Marcus’ romantic stakes. Could she possibly become his Gaul-friend? Or is she just a bit too real for him?
Grumio remains my favourite. Ryan Sampson is such a fantastic character actor and has really proved himself to be perfect for the role. Sometimes he doesn’t even need to say anything, his facial expressions are first class. I can only imagine that Ryan’s face must ache after a days filming!
I’ve only seen the first two episodes, but already they have produced some brilliant Grumio moments. In the first episode, Grumio refers to an ostrich as a “fatty chicken”, rescues a goat from Landlady which reinforces his caring side which we’ve seen in previous series (babe-eh) and then there’s the naked protest.
That’s right, in order to impress newcomer Delphine, Marcus talks Stylax and Grumio to support her at a protest, not knowing the dress code is naked. Before Marcus and Stylax have time to refuse, Grumio is stood there butt naked, only too happy to take part! At the end of the first episode Grumio saves Marcus from a lion who was ready to chew his arm off... I’ll leave you to find out for yourself how he manages it, as it really is a sight to behold!
Grumio continues to shine in episode two, as we get to meet his father Justin, played by Benidorm’s Steve Edge. The very man who left Grumio on a hill as a baby, next to Marcus’ family house, where his parents were forced to bring him up.
In town for work, Justin wants to get to know Grumio, admitting he was a “total nobhead” and it seems like Grumio os ready to give his old man another chance as he changes his name to Justin Junior and even agrees to a side parting!
In episode three, Michelle Keegan (Coronation Street) makes an appearance as Ursula who Stylax pursues a romance with. Ursula is a brazen Vestel Virgin, the Vestal Virgins being the ones who guard the city’s sacred flame.
When asked about working with Michelle Keegan, Joel Fry has said "She’s really good at comedy, I think she might surprise people, her timing is great.” So perhaps Plebs will be the start of many more comedy roles for her.
Alongside Michelle Keegan and Steve Edge are a legion of more new Roman recruits; with Landlord on the run for over a year, Maureen Lipman arrives as Landlady, Ingrid Oliver (Doctor Who) plays doping discus thrower Camilla in episode two, David Bamber (The King’s Speech) plays an ancient weatherman, Miriam Margolyes (Trollied) plays a theatrical grande dame and Samantha Spiro (Tracey Ullman’s Show) and Danny Webb (Humans) play Marcus' parents, Sylvia and Lepidus in episode three.
It’s not all new faces though, Tom Davis (Murder In Successville) returns as Davus, Doon Makichan is back to crack the whip as Flavia, Karl Theobald is back as Landlord and not content with just writing Plebs, Tom Basden returns as Aurelius.
I must admit, that when Plebs was first announced, I wasn’t sure a sitcom set in ancient rome would work. But boy was I wrong. I remember attending the screening for series one and quickly realising that ITV2 had a hit on their hands, and three years on it seems there’s no stopping one of the best comedies on television.
That might seem like a bold claim, but when you look at the current comedy landscape, there isn’t actually a lot to pick from. I mentioned earlier how ITV have a real lack of comedy throughout the year, but it’s not just ITV who are struggling. Catastrophe, Car Share and Chewing Gum are perhaps the best comedies out there in the past year or so and I really believe that Plebs deserves the recognition those shows are getting. Especially when it comes to award nominations.
Already, Plebs has won Best New Comedy at the British Comedy Awards, Best Scripted Comedy at the Royal Television Society Awards and has been nominated for two BAFTAs. So it goes without saying that ITV2 would be fools not to commission at least another series of Plebs!