There are roughly 28 million subscribers to HBO in all the land, and, according to most television critics, just about the only television worth watching is on HBO. The end result is quite a bit of commercial-free, Emmy-sweeping gore, f-words and woman-on-top sex scenes, a la Kim Cattrall (the better to show off the tatas). Tragically, millions of Americans are still missing out on the elite, quasi-cliquish feeling of rehashing what was seen Sunday nights on HBO. Our nation continues to divide along the lines of haves and have-nots, and HBO is now so common among the "haves" that it's easy to forget how many people "go without."
Luckily for them, the have-nots can read about it all in ceaselessly fawning reviews and stories in the entertainment press about how great HBO is, with no mention that a basic-cable-plus-premium package (i.e., "with HBO") in the United States now tops $700 a year in most markets. (Poor dears: They don't know that shouting "Narm! Narm!" while feigning a seizure is macabre and funny; they've not met Drama or Turtle; they're now watching "Sex and the City" on sanitized TBS reruns.) Next March, "The Sopranos" will return and preoccupy the thoughts and conversations of almost every middle-to-higher-tax-bracket, college-educated person in the vicinity, especially my beloved friends in the East Coast media elite. To someone who doesn't enjoy the show (me, for example, and maybe one other guy, and please spare us your e-mails), the fervor of the national "Sopranos" chatter becomes almost unbearable, and I always wind up watching a few episodes anyhow, just to . . . I don't know . . . fit in? But why am I picking a fight with "The Sopranos" when really I come to bury "Rome?"
I almost didn't watch "Rome" at all, because I hit a breaking point this summer with HBO's "commercial-free" advertisements for HBO: those incessant, sonorous "Rome" promos (and lo, the show is just as pompous as they promised, which is not to say we aren't all watching, slave-ishly) paired with HBO's never-ending campaign to remind HBO viewers that they're watching HBO and that there is no other thing like HBO. The network has become a celebrity. HBO is a velvet-rope club (or a gated community) that some of us are lucky enough to belong to. The club's main agenda appears to be sitting around talking about how superior the club is.