ITV comedy Plebs is an urban sitcom, just set in Ancient Rome

A man went into an amphitheatre… ancient Rome with a modern twist

By Jennifer Lipman, March 22, 2013

While most of us will be spending Monday evening considering the fate of the ancient Egyptians, British scriptwriter Sam Leifer will have the Roman Empire on his mind.

The 32-year-old is the co-writer of a new ITV2 comedy series called Plebs, airing on Monday, which stars Friday Night Dinner actor Tom Rosenthal and follows “three desperate young men as they try to hold down jobs and climb the social ladder in the big city — a city that just happens to be Ancient Rome”.

Mr Leifer, who, like other British comedy writers including David Baddiel and Sacha Baron Cohen, spent his formative years in the Zionist youth movement Habonim Dror, said he was disappointed that the first episode was being broadcast on Seder night.

“I’ve actually accused the schedulers at ITV of antisemitism,” he joked. “Most of the Jews will be hunting the afikomen when my show is on. But they can watch it on catch-up.”

Mr Leifer, whose brother Teddy — producer of the Oscar-nominated documentary The Invisible War — also produces Plebs, said the plot was partially autobiographical.

If you are hunting the afikomen, try catch-up for the show

“The idea is that nothing really changes — young guys hanging out in Rome in 27 BC are pretty much the same as young guys who are hanging out in London in 2013. All that’s really different is they’ve swapped tunics for skinny jeans.”

Past projects for the Leifer brothers have included The 10th Man, a 2006 comedy short starring Andrew Sachs and Stephen Berkoff, about elderly East End Jews and an 11th-hour search for a Kol Nidre minyan.

But the subject matter of Plebs is also close to Mr Leifer’s heart. He started learning Latin at primary school, continued at UCS and later completed a classics degree at Oxford. Anyone who studied Latin at school in recent years will recognise the inspiration behind characters named Grumio and Metella, although Caecillius will not be making an appearance.

“I’m definitely the only person in my classics class who has done anything useful with it,” Mr Leifer said. “But it’s not particularly historically accurate.”

Marcus, the “neurotic, bookish, lovelorn” main character in Plebs is not technically Jewish, but Mr Leifer said he wasn’t far off. “I think he is circumcised too,” he said.

And while the first series has steered clear of any plotlines involving the Jews in ancient Rome, Mr Leifer said it was a possibility if a second series were commissioned. “When we’re in 27 BC you can’t do anything about plotlines involving Christians or Muslims, because they weren’t around then — but you can with the Jews.”

Plebs will be on ITV2 on March 25

Last updated: 7:45am, March 22 2013