Summer may be over, but for the next few months, sandals will remain in fashion. Also swords. And tunics, which have a way of dropping at a moment's notice.

HBO has transported us, at no small expense, to ancient Rome, and who'd be foolish enough to refuse? Think Deadwood with baths, or the Sopranos breaking bread with the I, Claudius crew. Far from a stuffy costume epic, Rome (Sundays at 9 pm/ET) is a feast for the eyes and an orgy for whatever other senses may be stimulated by a ripping good story.

As is often the case with HBO shows — I didn't get hooked on Deadwood until more than midway through the first season — the 12-episode Rome unfolds slowly, with  the feel of a classic miniseries. It may take a few episodes for viewers to sort out the enormous cast of nobles and brutes, and to fully appreciate the sprawling, brawling pageant of debauchery, savagery and treachery. I've seen six hours and can't wait for the rest.

Starting in 52 B.C., as Rome nervously awaits Julius Caesar's return after the conquest of Gaul, the story is told largely from the perspective of two soldiers: upright and humorless Lucius Vorenus (Kevin McKidd) and recklessly bawdy Titus Pullo (Ray Stevenson). They're an unlikely and entertaining odd couple, our windows to a Britaly — Italy with British accents — that teems with political and sexual intrigue.

Chief among those for whom the boudoir is a strategic battlefield: Caesar's conniving niece Atia, played to the vampish hilt by Polly Walker. Every dynasty needs its Alexis, and she sets the tone for this shamelessly enjoyable historical romp.