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Viking Undies Model; God-Awful ‘Bible’; Dim ‘Widow’L: TV

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'Vikings'
Gabriel Byrne plays a chieftain on History's "Vikings." Photographer: Jonathan Hession/History via Bloomberg

Feb. 27 (Bloomberg) -- Not every hero could slaughter all the monks in a monastery and sail home with his swagger intact.

But so it goes on “Vikings,” History channel’s latest bid for some of TV’s “Spartacus” mojo.

Different gods, cooler haircuts and (this being basic cable) significantly fewer unsheathed body parts than Starz’s pay-channel orgy of ancient Romans, the Dark Age “Vikings” looks and sounds like the final longboat in a played-out trend.

Created and written by Michael Hirst -- the one-man cottage industry responsible for such costume dramas as “The Borgias” -- the nine-part “Vikings” stars former underwear model Travis Fimmel as Ragnar Lothbrok, a Norse raider bored with the same old summer routine (head east, plunder, rape, kill, sail home. Repeat).

“There are no lands to the west!” cautions Ragnar’s corrupt chieftain (Gabriel Byrne) when the upstart suggests a new direction.

Sailing off with a few compatriots, Ragnar proves the chieftain wrong, returning from England with a boatload of church treasures, not to mention an enslaved young monk named Athelstan (George Blagden), who speaks to Ragnar and his wife Lagertha (Katheryn Winnick) of a strange new god of peace and love.

“Vikings,” of course, wants both worlds -- the blood-and-gore action of sword-wielding barbarians and the feel-good veneer of a blossoming Christian conscience.

Even the pious Athelstan can’t decide which way to turn. One episode he’s declining a three-way with the buff Lothbrok and another he’s praying for buddy Ragnar’s safety. Has he forgotten all those dead monks or is he suffering from history’s first case of Stockholm Syndrome?

“Vikings” airs Sunday, March 3, on History at 10 p.m. New York time. Rating: **

‘The Bible’

“Vikings” is looted gold compared to “The Bible,” History’s god-awful 10-part drama having its debut the same night.

With British accents and the simple-mindedness of an illustrated children’s storybook, “The Bible” reduces the poetry of its source to the bland, dimwitted re-enactments that usually pepper cable’s low-budget documentaries.

Among the low points of the four episodes available for review, I’d be hard-pressed to choose a winner, but the double-sworded angel of death, played by an Asian actor with martial-arts training, kicking and stabbing his way through Sodom is a top contender.

The show’s producers include reality TV king Mark Burnett (“The Celebrity Apprentice”) and “Touched by an Angel” star Roma Downey, who gives herself a plum role as the Virgin Mary, complete with the blue robes of countless Sunday-school pageants.

“The Bible” airs Sunday, March 3, on History at 8 p.m. Rating: *

‘Red Widow’

If low expectations are a blessing, ABC’s new mob drama “Red Widow” is absolutely charmed.

Arriving in the wake of network midseason megaflops “Do No Harm” and “Zero Hour,” “Red Widow” bests those two only by trodding safe, unadventurous ground.

Adapted by “Twilight Saga” screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg from a Dutch series, “Red Widow” stars Radha Mitchell as Marta Walraven, a Marin County mom drawn into her family’s criminal doings.

“It’s not my business!” she tells a drug lord (Goran Visnjic) about the cocaine allegedly stolen by her recently murdered husband.

“It is now,” comes the response.

Judging from the 2-hour premiere, neither Rosenberg nor Mitchell give Marta nearly enough depth to hold our interest. This mob wife is no Carmela Soprano, lacking the willful ignorance or high-cost taste that could make her dilemma worth pondering.

“Red Widow” airs Sunday, March 3, on ABC at 9 p.m. New York time. Rating: **1/2


What the Stars Mean:

***** Fantastic
**** Excellent
*** Good
** So-So
* Poor
(No stars) Avoid

(Greg Evans is a critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

Muse highlights include Jeremy Gerard on theater and Ryan Sutton on dining.

To contact the writer on the story: Greg Evans at gregeaevans@yahoo.com.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at mhoelterhoff@bloomberg.net.

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