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The track record of Amazon Studios
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The Dude
Bree

Feb 26, 1:35pm

Post #1 of 53 (1886 views)
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The track record of Amazon Studios Can't Post

Disclaimer: This post is not simply intended as a lazy jab at Amazon Studios and the upcoming LotR series.

When Amazon announced that they had acquired the television rights for The Lord of the Rings (November 2017), Amazon Studios was still a fairly young production company (it still is). Based on the ever-reliable source of Wikipedia their first drama series (Bosch) was released in early 2015 (see here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_original_programs_distributed_by_Amazon). So back then we did not have that much material to judge the artistic quality of their productions. For comparison, when HBO acquired the rights for A Song of Ice and Fire, they had already aired shows like The Sopranos, The Wire, or Rome.

I was therefore especially curious what kind of drama shows Amazon would produce in the prelude to the Lord of the Rings series, about their tone, visual language, and writing. I must say, the results are troubling. I do not pretend to have seen everything there is but during that time...

  • They continued to release a tacky, slightly cheap-looking, and horribly written pulp series (The Man in the High Castle)

  • Released a ludicrously propagandistic show about the CIA (Jack Ryan) that made Homeland look like intelligent television.

  • A hyperviolent satire of the superhero genre (The Boys); probably the only show on this list with any kind of (pop-)cultural impact so far; presumably because it is the best, but that is not saying much.

  • An entirely forgettable fantasy show starring Orlando Bloom (Carnival Row) that conveyed its political message with the subtle artistic grace of a school-play (grades 3-4).

  • And now another pulpy and, dare I say it exploitative, show about World War II (The Hunters).

My question for you: Has there been any drama-related show produced by Amazon studios in the last 2 Ĺ years which fulfilled even a modest degree of artistic merit? That did not just try to please the stunted sensibilities of a focus-tested audience? That demanded anything from its audience, let alone challenged it?
Again, I am not familiar with all of their shows (e.g., their foreign-language productions) but the list above is an ill omen indeed. If the screenwriters/showrunners/producers of the upcoming LotR series follow the same approach as their colleagues from those other shows, this will be an entirely forgettable, at best cringe-inducing endeavor. Letís hope the prize tag of the series somehow also means an increase of thinking heads behind it.
(There is an argument to be made that the quality of drama shows has seen a general decline in recent years, for all premium production companies. Of course, that would hardly be a point of comfort for the LotR series).


Althoun
Lorien

Feb 26, 2:26pm

Post #2 of 53 (1819 views)
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Fleabag and The Expanse season 4.... [In reply to] Can't Post

"Fleabag", the series received the Golden Globe Award for Best Television Series only this year (albeit it was a co-production with BBC). It has 100% on Rotten Tomatoes.

Also, "The Expanse".

Amazon decided to adopt the show after it was dropped by Syfy and its fourth season was critically acclaimed and a vast improvement upon the source material given that the fourth book, Cibola Burn, which is the least compelling of an otherwise excellent science fiction book series.

This Amazon produced season is considered the best thus far and also has 100% on Rotten Tomatoes:

https://www.rottentomatoes.com/tv/the_expanse/s04

"Critics Consensus

Smart and thrilling as ever, The Expanse's fourth season doesn't miss a beat, successfully navigating network changes without losing any of its rich character work or narrative complexities.
"

"The Expanse looks better than ever. Production values feel bumped up, the direction is more artistic and, most importantly, the illusion of the brand new planet of New Terra is utterly believable."

"The Expanse is a must-see sci-fi drama. It has found a suitable home with Prime, one that seems very happy to give this phenomenal story the love it deserves."

"With season 4, The Expanse feels at once like the same show fans ... love and an entirely new beast, with new handlers, different worlds, and a renewed sense of purpose."



(This post was edited by Althoun on Feb 26, 2:35pm)


Althoun
Lorien

Feb 26, 2:54pm

Post #3 of 53 (1799 views)
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WoT should be telling... [In reply to] Can't Post

Being able to judge first the artistic merits, production values, directorial style, quality of dialogue, pacing, character work and cultural cachet (or, as it may be, the lack thereof) of Amazon's upcoming Wheel of Time should be useful.

It will be the first time they've produced a really high-budget epic fantasy series on the scale of GoT.

Consider it a kind of trial run for the kind of thing we might expect from LotR, which will come out much further down the pipeline.


(This post was edited by Althoun on Feb 26, 2:55pm)


MoreMorgoth
Rivendell

Feb 26, 3:00pm

Post #4 of 53 (1795 views)
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Amazon series [In reply to] Can't Post


In Reply To
[
They continued to release a tacky, slightly cheap-looking, and horribly written pulp series (The Man in the High Castle)

  • Released a ludicrously propagandistic show about the CIA (Jack Ryan) that made Homeland look like intelligent television.

  • A hyperviolent satire of the superhero genre (The Boys); probably the only show on this list with any kind of (pop-)cultural impact so far; presumably because it is the best, but that is not saying much.

  • An entirely forgettable fantasy show starring Orlando Bloom (Carnival Row) that conveyed its political message with the subtle artistic grace of a school-play (grades 3-4).

  • ]


  • I happen to love MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE and greatly enjoyed CARNIVAL ROW.

    Watched the first few FLEABAG and did not care for it one bit.


    Althoun
    Lorien

    Feb 26, 3:33pm

    Post #5 of 53 (1778 views)
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    Must admit... [In reply to] Can't Post


    In Reply To
    I happen to love MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE and greatly enjoyed CARNIVAL ROW.

    Watched the first few FLEABAG and did not care for it one bit.


    I've never actually watched 'Fleabag' myself, apart from a single episode of the recent season, so I can't really give a personal opinion as to its quality - but the series has been universally acclaimed by the critics, so its clearly doing something right.


    Thor 'n' Oakenshield
    Rohan


    Feb 26, 4:18pm

    Post #6 of 53 (1759 views)
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    Not a drama, but [In reply to] Can't Post

    "Good Omens" was a fantastic series that perfectly captured the spirit and tone of the original book (granted, one of the authors did help with the series' creation), and did become cemented in popular culture for a hot minute. Very well acted, devastatingly funny, and charmingly quaint.

    "It is my duty to fight" - Mulan


    The Dude
    Bree

    Feb 26, 5:32pm

    Post #7 of 53 (1725 views)
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    Thank you for your reply. [In reply to] Can't Post

    It is interesting that all three additional shows that were brought up so far (Fleabag, The Expanse, Good Omens) were either co-produced with another production house or started somewhere else. I have not seen any of the listed shows, but what I personally heard about Fleabag and Good Omens from sources/critics I trust did not sound all too promising.

    Excellent point about The Wheel of Time, by the way. That is when we will know more. Of course, the writers for the two shows are different; but for shows such as these there are certain narrative elements and targets which are outlined by the producers and not the showrunners. I therefore hope that the quality of Amazonís truly original shows does increase in the next eighteen months. If the people behind Amazon Studios have not realized by now that most of their past output has been meandering between camp and middle-brow at best, we could very well get the most expensive LARP documentary ever in 2021/22.


    FrodoEyes
    Rivendell

    Feb 26, 8:07pm

    Post #8 of 53 (1690 views)
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    PJ [In reply to] Can't Post

    Maybe LOTR will be their big break - who would have picked PJ for LOTR with his track record of low budget gore movies? You can't always judge a director or indeed a company by their previous work, especially when they're relatively new at the game...

    'I wish the Ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened.'
    'So do all who live to see such times but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.'


    Solicitr
    Gondor


    Feb 26, 10:12pm

    Post #9 of 53 (1645 views)
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    I'm not sure we can give [In reply to] Can't Post

    credit to Amazon for simply providing the funds for The Expanse to continue to do what it was already doing very well. It's like giving EA credit for Mass Effect 2.


    Lissuin
    Valinor


    Feb 27, 12:15am

    Post #10 of 53 (1624 views)
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    The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel [In reply to] Can't Post

    Amazon Studios. Highly acclaimed, as they say. Award after award. Lots of heart, poignancy, humor - I haven't loved a tv series like this since MASH, Northern Exposure, and Star Trek Next Generation. That's a long time between series. No, it's not fantasy, but it gets it's late 1950's early '60's era spot on - socially, thematically, sets and costumes.


    Noria
    Gondor

    Feb 27, 2:28pm

    Post #11 of 53 (1496 views)
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    Good Omens [In reply to] Can't Post


    In Reply To
    "Good Omens" was a fantastic series that perfectly captured the spirit and tone of the original book (granted, one of the authors did help with the series' creation), and did become cemented in popular culture for a hot minute. Very well acted, devastatingly funny, and charmingly quaint.


    I recently got Amazon Prime and Good Omens was the first thing I watched. Loved it, mostly. As a huge Terry Pratchett fan and a lover of the Pratchett/Neil Gaiman book, I thought it was well done. Some of the acting wasn't great but Michael Sheen and David Tennant were fabulous.

    I also quite enjoyed Carnival Row, particularly for the world building. I agree that the political message was anything but subtle but wasn't bothered.

    I've only heard good things about The Man in the High Castle and plan to watch that next.

    Still, it's a good point that WoT will be an indicator of Amazon's abilities to pull off a big fantasy series. I read WoT and had mixed feelings about it - it was far too long and repetitive, with very strange ideas about character and relationships. I hope that the series will take the good from the books and run with it. Obvioulsy Amazon wants to step up.


    Solicitr
    Gondor


    Feb 27, 3:01pm

    Post #12 of 53 (1487 views)
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    Well, [In reply to] Can't Post


    In Reply To
    Maybe LOTR will be their big break - who would have picked PJ for LOTR with his track record of low budget gore movies? You can't always judge a director or indeed a company by their previous work, especially when they're relatively new at the game...


    The difference is that this is top-down. PJ really, really wanted to make the LR and had to sell not one but two studios on funding him to do it. Here on the other hand the studio has decreed "We want to hire somebody to make a series we can sell under the 'Lord of the Rings' rubric (and should be like another Game of Thrones because that's what we really want)"


    kzer_za
    Lorien

    Feb 27, 5:35pm

    Post #13 of 53 (1452 views)
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    Bezos is reputed to actually be a big Tolkien fan [In reply to] Can't Post

    So hopefully there is more than purely commercial motives at play, though of course that plays a part.

    Of course, "big Tolkien fan" can mean anything from "likes the movies and read the book once" to "read LotR a few times and The Silmarillion once" to "knows what the Athrabeth is."


    (This post was edited by kzer_za on Feb 27, 5:35pm)


    The Dude
    Bree

    Feb 27, 6:28pm

    Post #14 of 53 (1435 views)
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    I can only second that. [In reply to] Can't Post

    Plus, there is a difference between comparing the track record of a production company and a director (or an individual artist in general). Also remember, Jackson had directed two other feature films (Heavenly Creatures and The Frighteners) before the trilogy.

    My point is really what kind of shows Amazon Studios wants to produce. Each show that gets produced by a media company also tells you something about how the respective media company views its audience, who they want to attract as an audience, and how they want to be seen in general as an IP (e.g., you don't go to the History Channel for accurate history programming, drama or otherwise). HBO, at least since the early 2000s, has aimed to produce (at least some) shows that fit/ape/mimic - sometimes even enhance - the style and tone of good, serious American cinema. Things of the quality as "The Sopranos" were basically unheard of in television before that time. Prior to that, most shows on TV were artless entertainment, practically filler between the commercials. What it comes down to is that the people behind these shows did not even try to turn them into art. There is a good interview on this with David Chase (https://www.vanityfair.com/news/2007/04/sopranos200704?currentPage=1)*

    Did HBO always succeed with their prestige television shows? No, of course not. But it was refreshing to see that the people behind some of their shows (and eventual of other productions companies) at least tried. I cannot say the same for the original Amazon shows I have watched so far. Take Netflix, for example: Yes, most of their shows have been forgettable. But they have actively worked on producing serious films as well.

    Since 2017, my fear has been that Amazon's strategy behind the "Lord of the Rings" show would go like this: "We want to turn Amazon Prime into a huge IP for blockbuster television; ideally for the 12-18 demographic. For that we need an established franchise. Key is that we mimic anything that has come before, mainly in style and not in substance. Maybe, from time to time, we add some current political message to please RT "critics". Exploration of deeper themes and narratives, you say? You mean there is a point to all of that fantasy stuff? Isn't LOTR about elves and goblins anyway, you know, like D&D? If the people dress in the same clothes as in the films, talk in a weird stilted language, and there are mass battles at the end of a season, people will eat it up."

    To cut it short, my fear is that the producers and show-runners won't even try to make something worthy of calling it art. And the shows which I have listed above do not give me much courage to the contrary.

    *Warning: adult language


    Ataahua
    Superuser


    Feb 27, 7:44pm

    Post #15 of 53 (1417 views)
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    Just for accuracy... [In reply to] Can't Post


    In Reply To
    Also remember, Jackson had directed two other feature films (Heavenly Creatures and The Frighteners) before the trilogy.


    PJ directed (and wrote/produced) five films before Fellowship of the Ring: Bad Taste, Meet the Feebles, Braindead, Heavenly Creatures and The Frighteners. He also wrote and produced (but didn't direct) Jack Brown Genius, plus made the TV mockumentary Forgotten Silver (which I, stupidly, didn't watch until after the joke was known).

    I admit that I'm not particularly invested in the Middle-earth TV series but I do hope it's at least good quality. Your fear is what the cynical part of me hopes doesn't happen, but wouldn't be surprised to see.

    Celebrimbor: "Pretty rings..."
    Dwarves: "Pretty rings..."
    Men: "Pretty rings..."
    Sauron: "Mine's better."

    "Ah, how ironic, the addictive qualities of Sauronís master weapon led to its own destruction. Which just goes to show, kids - if you want two small and noble souls to succeed on a mission of dire importance... send an evil-minded beggar with them too." - Gandalf's Diaries, final par, by Ufthak.


    Fantasy novel - The Arcanist's Tattoo

    My LOTR fan-fiction


    The Dude
    Bree

    Feb 27, 8:13pm

    Post #16 of 53 (1407 views)
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    That sentence was in response to FrodoEyes' post [In reply to] Can't Post

    "who would have picked PJ for LOTR with his track record of low budget gore movies"

    Which is true, but as I said, Jackson then went on to direct two other feature films (plus, a mock documentary named "Forgotten Silver")


    (This post was edited by The Dude on Feb 27, 8:13pm)


    Ataahua
    Superuser


    Feb 28, 12:55am

    Post #17 of 53 (1348 views)
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    Ah, I see. [In reply to] Can't Post

    Yep, that makes sense. :)

    Celebrimbor: "Pretty rings..."
    Dwarves: "Pretty rings..."
    Men: "Pretty rings..."
    Sauron: "Mine's better."

    "Ah, how ironic, the addictive qualities of Sauronís master weapon led to its own destruction. Which just goes to show, kids - if you want two small and noble souls to succeed on a mission of dire importance... send an evil-minded beggar with them too." - Gandalf's Diaries, final par, by Ufthak.


    Fantasy novel - The Arcanist's Tattoo

    My LOTR fan-fiction


    CuriousG
    Half-elven


    Feb 28, 2:48am

    Post #18 of 53 (1333 views)
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    Production values vs personal taste [In reply to] Can't Post

    I watched all of Carnival Row, hoping it would get better, and never liking it much. I even agreed with the political/social message that it's bad to be mean to minorities, but I got tired of them shooting me in the face with a shotgun every 10 minutes to make sure I got the message. That said, the acting was good, and the production values were high. I didn't like the characters much. Some aspects of the plot entertained me; other aspects did not. I really hope their LOTR is not so childish in delivering whatever themes it has.

    OTOH, I really, really liked The Boys. Yes, it was gory, but I've seen gorier, so I wouldn't fault it for that. Acting was great, characters were nuanced, there were unexpected twists and turns, and even some of the villains remained villains while revealing some human complexity. Then I read the web comics that inspired the show, and I was really, really impressed with how much Amazon improved on them. I couldn't finish the web comics; I think the only intended audience was adolescent boys titillated by lots of sex, violence, and profanity. I know there are fans of the comics because I found their fan boards and tried to figure out why people liked them so much, but to me, they were just trash. Very well-illustrated, but repetitive trash. Amazon did a lot of work to transform them into a thought-provoking show for adults.

    So I'm wait & see. I was a mild GOT fan and didn't watch every episode. What I noticed from diehard fans was a lot of disappointment with the final season and especially the finale, and it was still HBO running the show. Moral of the story for me? You just can't predict too much based on what a studio or director has done before, and even if they start out right, they can screw up later. Or they can start weak and get better.


    The Dude
    Bree

    Feb 28, 8:58am

    Post #19 of 53 (1268 views)
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    Thank you for your response. [In reply to] Can't Post

    And do not get me wrong, I am not saying HBO has a perfect track record either. What I wrote above really only applies to some of their shows.

    Leaving their respective settings aside for the moment, I just hope the writers and producers of the upcoming series want to create something that is closer to "Rome", "The Sopranos", or "Mad Men" than "True Blood", Vikings", or "Carnival Row". Were the former shows all masterpieces? No, not by a long-shot. But the people behind those shows had an artistic vision and you need to respect that at least. They did not just want to create derivative camp.

    I would be willing to watch a couple of episodes of a disastrous LotR show where you still get the felling that the show-runners honestly tried to tell another aspect of Tolkien's legendarium. What I would not be willing to do is watch something that was intended as nothing but entertainment from the beginning.


    kzer_za
    Lorien

    Feb 28, 12:37pm

    Post #20 of 53 (1230 views)
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    Well, they do have a writer from Breaking Bad [In reply to] Can't Post

    And other writers from highly regarded productions. Also JA Bayona is the director of the first two episodes (which will really set the tone as there will be a hiatus after they're shot) and made A Monster Calls, which really impressed me. It's both a great movie and feels Tolkienesque - thematically, not just because it has an Ent-like character. Also Howe and Shippey, though the latter's involvement is probably minor.

    On the other hand, the showrunners are as green as you get; they've written various scripts but have worked on almost nothing that has actually reached production (IMDB only lists a little minor uncredited writing on Star Trek Beyond, though it might be incomplete). Quite a gamble on Amazon's part to give them so much responsibility, hope it pays off.


    (This post was edited by kzer_za on Feb 28, 12:40pm)


    Solicitr
    Gondor


    Feb 28, 4:08pm

    Post #21 of 53 (1197 views)
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    Dear God [In reply to] Can't Post


    In Reply To
    I just hope the writers and producers of the upcoming series want to create something that is closer to "Rome"


    Please, no! Salacious pulp crap that did violence to history and actual Roman society and politics just about every time it turned around. Pollo, a mere centurion not a member of even the equites "running" for a Senate "constituency" like a bloody MP?????? Atia a conniving trollop? Cicero a sniveling coward? The Spartacus series is about as historical, and better written (yes, that's an insult).

    Comparing that tumor with 50-year-old I, Claudius just goes to show that budget doth not make the programme.


    The Dude
    Bree

    Feb 28, 5:16pm

    Post #22 of 53 (1177 views)
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    I did not mean in style... [In reply to] Can't Post

    Out of the "artistic" shows I quoted above, "Rome" is by far the weakest one. From what I can recall (have not seen it in ten years), Season 2 was a disaster. Historical inaccuracies abounded from the start of the show (Egyptian culture was entirely misrepresented, for example), certain characters were turned into cheap caricatures (Cicero, as you said) and the longer it went on the more it evolved into gore-and-sex-camp.

    So, I would not call it a good show, and I would not advise the LOTR showrunners to ape its style of dialogue, themes, or structure. But when it started, in the first couple of episodes at least, the show did indeed at least include some fresh and new elements about late-republican Roman society: the pater familias of Lucius Vorenus, plebeian life (yes, in many ways distorted, but some elements were based on historical sources), or Roman military tactics in battle.

    Conceptually, the "Rome" series started as "we are going to show the nitty-gritty reality of classical Roman society in this show and not the idealized version of 19th-century Romantics and 18th-century Idealists" (of course, "nitty-gritty realism" is often an idealized version of history too; and the people behind this type of realism often are woefully semi-literate) but quickly descended into pure camp. The Spartacus series, on the other hand, was intended as a cheap TV knockoff of "300" from the start. And I would rather have a bad show that tried (at least initially) than a bad show that never bothered to be anything else (of course, I would prefer a good show, but that's maybe too much to ask).


    2ndBreffest
    Lorien


    Feb 28, 8:23pm

    Post #23 of 53 (1131 views)
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    yes... [In reply to] Can't Post

    I agree, not much there to really give one much hope. At best, fans of PJ's movies will be happy with this, I don't expect more than that. At worst? Well, the sky's the limit!


    Solicitr
    Gondor


    Feb 28, 8:39pm

    Post #24 of 53 (1126 views)
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    Minor quibble [In reply to] Can't Post

    Really just venting a pet peeve of mine, along with the misuse of "crescendo:" the misuse of "plebeian" to denote the Roman lower classes. The division of the citizenry into those families who claimed descent from the original Fathers, the first 100 Senators (patricians), and everybody else (plebeians), and which was an immutable status until the Principate (except for certain patricians who found it convenient to abandon that status by getting adopted into a plebeian family, like Publius Clodius); and the division by the censors into legal Classes including the Senatorial based entirely on wealth, not birth, were entirely unrelated. Some patricians had fallen into poverty by Caesar's time (famously, Sulla's father); more to the point, by the 1st c. BC the majority of the Senate were from plebeian families, not to mention the great plutocrats who preferred trade and banking to political careers. Just a few of the noted plebeian genii of the period were Tullius Cicero, Pompeius, Porcius Cato, Caecilius Metellus, Marius, Licinius (Crassus), Junius (Brutus), Antonius (the famous branch, at least) and Octavius.

    (Yes, I know, properly I should have used the feminine forms)


    (This post was edited by Solicitr on Feb 28, 8:44pm)


    The Dude
    Bree

    Feb 28, 11:56pm

    Post #25 of 53 (1085 views)
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    Where you are right you a right [In reply to] Can't Post

    Lazy terminological error of mine. Quite the faux-pas, actually, given my background. Don't want to excuse it, but maybe it was due to certain linguistic differences.

    I am (or should be) aware, of course, that plebeians as a social class were not limited to the inner-city rabble, and that many of the most famous, richest, and most powerful men in late-republican Rome were just that, of plebeian stock. Cicero famously was a homo novus. Even Crassus, the old money-bags, was a member of a plebeian gens. And Caesar's uncle Marius was hardly a man of patrician origin either.

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