TV

SPOILER ALERT! If you have not seen the Season 5 finale of True Blood, do not read on!
Also: WARNING! EXPLICIT LANGUAGE! CC2K TV Editor Phoebe Raven could not contain her rage, so if you are sensitive, do not read on!

Right off the bat I want to confess something: I do not want to write this review. Every bone in my body is telling me to step away from the keyboard and not spill another word about the heartless, soulless beast that is True Blood. But I know you want me to write it, so I am going to do it, even though this season of True Blood was so filled with “UGH” that I am not sure I can even get through it. Here’s my attempt.

Somewhere during this fifth season of True Blood, my only comment whenever someone would ask me about the show would be a quote from Jason Stackhouse: “Fucking fairies!” That about sums up my attitude towards HBO’s vampire offering. I believe Jason uttered these words after waking up naked in his apartment after a wild night at the Fairy Moulin Rouge. And in his quote you could substitute any of the other creatures populating True Blood’s increasingly lifeless (pun intended) world and still wind up with pretty much the same sentiment, although the fairies have to be the lamest of the supernatural creatures by far.

I’m not even going to attempt to recap any of the “events” that took place this season, because to call what happened in this Season 5 a “plot” would be an affront to any other plot ever devised on television. When True Blood tried being truly evil this season, it just made me laugh. For more than five or six episodes I seriously thought Bill was putting on an act; I never, not for one second, took Bill seriously as a threat, a lunatic, a leader or a vampire chancellor. I call this a fundamental flaw of the season because I also always thought Eric was putting on an act, and I was right. There is such an essential sense of character about Eric (and Alexander Skarsgaard’s performance of him) that there is simply no mistaking what Eric’s motives are. Bill, on the other hand, has never stood for anything. He’s a flip flopper of the worst kind and so Evil Bill made me laugh, which I don’t think was the intention.

When True Blood tried to be complex this season, it made me lose track of all the different story lines that never truly converged. The season finale tried to make us believe these story lines converged, but in actuality no one knows anything about what the other one is doing and Alcide and his pack had pretty much nothing to do with any of the other events, while Sam spent an awful lot of time as a fly and even while infiltrating the vampire compound stayed oddly at the sidelines of the real action. Nothing converged into anything that made any sense on this season of True Blood.

The show has always been overt with its social and ideological symbolism. I for one didn’t mind one bit that the vamps were just as outrageously bat-shit religiously crazy as any humans ever were. Vampires the pinnacle of evolution, joke of the century! They are just as flawed as any other creature on the planet, they are just too narcissistic to see it. Wait, wasn’t that a flaw Bill accused Salome of (who, btw, was a sad excuse of a myth reborn)? So I didn’t mind the religious nut-baggery per se, but I had heard enough of the crazy Lilith talk after about two episodes and yet they kept rambling on. And just how long does one vile of blood last anyway if they all kept drinking from it, even if it was just drops?

So the vampires revealed themselves as being just as pathetic as any other creature this season (with the exception of Eric, who remains truly awesome, because he has principles). And yet, the vampires did not manage, try as they might, to be as pathetic as the fairies. Fucking fairies! It’s fairies like the ones in True Blood that give fairies a bad name and I am outraged on behalf of all the bad-ass, cool, hard-working real fairies out there! In case you ever want to get a picture of what can be done with a little bit of imagination when it comes to fairies, or the fae (let’s be politically correct here), please read Patricia Briggs’ “Mercy Thompson” book series, or Seanan McGuire’s “October Day” book series. Now those fae and faeries can kick some serious ass and won’t inquire about Kesha and willy-nilly walk into the hands of a 3,000 year-old vampire. Fucking fairies!
As a viewer I was offended at the portrayal of the Fairy Queen/Elder. I was literally offended. I wanted my money back. I wanted to hand the makers of True Blood the Razzie Award of the TV season. I wanted to smack someone in the face, repeatedly.
Sure, I loved seeing Eric getting his revenge on Russell Edgington (great move, more on that later), but in the meantime did the fairies have to come off as such nitwits, such utter esoteric nincompoops, such naïve scatterbrains that it is a miracle they didn’t die of their own lameness eons ago? Fucking fairies!

The pinnacle of lameness had to be Sookie this season. I get it, she’s been on a rollercoaster pretty much nonstop, so the girl is entitled to feel a little sorry for herself, but I was very disappointed that as soon as she kicks the men, i.e. Bill and Eric, out of her life, there is pretty much nothing left of her or her personality. Scenes with Sookie made me groan this season and what little respect I had for her for staking the occasional vamp, staring down Eric more than once, and disposing of Debbie’s body after shooting her – I lost all of that respect when Sookie started getting sucked into the fairy business big time. Fucking fairies!

Where I have to give at least some credit to the final episode of this season is that it did not hold back on the bloodshed. Vamps were exploding left and right. Sadly though, almost none of these scenes made me go “Oh, COOOOOL!” the way the showrunners surely intended me to. None of this gruesome payoff was earned, so I withheld payment. Where the demise of Russell Edgington was deceptively simple and therefore impactful, most of the other deaths of the chancellors, security vamps etc. were too much stunt and too little emotional consequence. And why does poor Jason Stackhouse always have to be the class clown when finally this season showed some emotional growth on his part? Why does he have to get hit by fucking fairy whammies and start seeing ghosts and go all Ghostbusters on us? You know who I blame? That’s right, fucking fairies (well, the Fairy Queen to be precise and her horrible aim, some Queen she was!).

Yes, it was gutsy to kill off Russell Edgington, one of the show’s most entertaining characters ever, in the cold open of the finale. That was a genuinely good move and smart plotting, but the finale petered out from there. It featured a lot of running from point A to point B, a lot of shifting into flies and way too much fairy birthing antics (fucking fairies!). I would have preferred a finale more in the style of Ocean’s Eleven, in which Sookie and Eric hatch a plan to infiltrate the Vampire Authority Complex and for this cause assemble all their allies in an intricate, intelligent manner. Sookie gets the wolves on board, because they want to get puppy Emma out of prison. Naturally Sam and Luna are gung-ho about it too and can provide useful skills in being the scouts that go in first and open the doors from the inside. Jason leads the infantry of Tara, Pam and Jessica, who clear the way for Eric, Sookie and Nora to take care of business, while the wolves provide them with useful cover on their flanks and draw some attention outside the complex (this is called a diversion). Now THAT would have been a cool convergence of storylines.

This fifth season of True Blood more than any other made me identify with Lafayette, who basically checked out of all the mental going-ons and put a smile on his face and made margaritas for everyone. He was sassier and snappier than ever, especially when approached about any supernatural business, his standard response being “Clean up your own mess, bitches!” That’s how I felt. I wanted to check out of True Blood too. It was too much, none of it made any sense and it made my head hurt trying to remember everything that was happening. I would have loved to have joined Lafayette in his consumption of drugs and alcohol just to forget about the mess that is Bon Temps and True Blood.

Some slight shimmers of hope and potential were still there, in the details and the neglected moments, but True Blood has never been good at grasping what it is good at and running with it. Instead the show keeps making the wrong choice and focuses on exactly those things that are least interesting. A full-on war between humans and supernaturals could be a lot of fun next season, but it won’t be, because this is True Blood. There will be a whole lot of rambling on about how to save Bill, now that he is Lilith incarnate (I wonder if he has inherited her glorious bush), and a whole lot of tip-toeing around a rekindling of the Erik-Sookie love/hate relationship and Pam and Tara will be there to provide quips to all this mysery.

I remember a point in time where I defended True Blood against those who waved it off as “just another show about vampires”. I no longer defend True Blood, even though it is no longer about vampires, but about every single creature ever dreamed up anywhere on Earth.
I really don’t know what to do with True Blood anymore. I don’t think I even have the energy left to hate it. It’s such a jumbled mess of strings that never went anywhere that I am inclined to just drop the tangled ball of yarn it has created and walk away. And while I do, I will be cursing under my breath: “Fucking fairies.”

Jane Espenson 2Fanboy Comics' Bryant Dillon interviews writer Jane Espenson at the Husbands Season 2 premiere.


At the premiere of Husbands Season 2 at the Paley Center for Media, Fanboy Comics President Bryant Dillon talks with series' Executive Producer/co-writer Jane Espenson about the impressive list of guest stars for Season 2, the success of their Kickstarter campaign, and how the series hopes to break traditional media barriers.


You can see the first episode of Husbands Season 2 at lovehusbands.com

 

 

 

When you pair a big name like Aaron Sorkin with a behemoth of television like HBO, the expectations for the end result cannot be any less than out of this world. Although Sorkin has struggled a bit in recent years (see Studio 60 On the Sunset Strip and The Social Network, the latter having absolutely no place on his resume IMHO), the memory of The West Wing and Sports Night is enough to make any fan of smart, high-brow, politics-filled television salivate. With HBO money as his backing, The Newsroom could very well be expected to hit the ground running.

And for the first ten minutes of the pilot episode two months ago it truly did. It just so happened that I was having a discussion on Facebook with friends about the perception of America and its politics overseas and why it is so damn easy these days to dislike America, when I watched the pilot of The Newsroom. While Will McAvoy’s (Jeff Daniels) speech/outburst can be criticized when analyzed in detail for sexism and overgeneralization, when I first heard it my entire being screamed “YES! EXACTLY!”.
Here it is for reference:

 


As The Newsroom continued over the weeks, I had many of the same problems that other TV critics have raised: the show is preachy, off-balance, treats its female characters with disdain and suffers a lot from White Guy Syndrome. As a television drama, The Newsroom fails pretty much across the board. The romantic storylines are detracting greatly from what I think the show should be about – journalism – and here once again the women come off as damsels and pining, helpless stereotypes to the all-white romantic leads, who across the board are not very attractive (in the emotional sense) at all in their respective superiority complexes.
The news stories the show deals with, on the other hand, are often more name-dropped than really investigated, which is a shame, because if there is an advantage that The Newsroom has, it is that of hindsight, meaning it could present the news stories from a year ago to us in a more fully developed, balanced picture than the actual news stories of the time.

The characters on The Newsroom are still largely intangible even after nine episodes, as any necessary shading of their personalities or any consistency in their actions and convictions has been swept aside in favor of making each episode hit randomly determined sensationalist highlight points. Most characters even speak in the exact same Sorkinese that would be fine for one character, but comes off as terribly unbelievable if all the characters speak it. So, no, The Newsroom is not a successful drama. At its center it is neither about office relationships nor about romantic relationships nor about hard-hitting journalism. Half the time Twitter is mocked on The Newsroom, while the other half of the time Twitter is used as their first source of information on any breaking news item. And why are we meant to believe that the nightly news show on an Atlanta cable channel is going to change the American mind in general anyway?
The newsroom on The Newsroom comes across as about a decade behind on many issues of technology and self-awareness of what news shows can and should be – a fact that is not helped at all by the horrendously outdated and inappropriate soundtrack reminiscent of David E. Kelley shows in the Nineties.

However, while I bring up all these detrimental issues about The Newsroom, I still want to say this (pardon my language): I fucking love this show!
I don’t love it as a television drama, I don’t have any particular attachments to any of the characters per se (even though the show assembles a very talented cast of actors), but on so many of the political issues it touches upon, The Newsroom manages to succinctly articulate those most basic truths and fallacies I wish above all every single American citizen would understand. In a world where something as atrocious as Fox News is not only allowed to exist but is furthermore being watched by millions of people, it is hard not to despair.
The Republican party in America is fast becoming a global laughing stock given how some of its highest officials have presented themselves on the international playing field (Mitt Romney recently didn’t help at all), so it is refreshing to see that a registered Republican like Will McAvoy can be portrayed on The Newsroom as a sensible, intelligent, informed anchor, who likes to get to the heart of a matter and never once has to mention God to do so.

Yes, some of the speeches and lengthy tirades on The Newsroom come off as trite and sanctimonious to those of us who know our share about politics and would wish The Newsroom to dig deeper. And maybe the problem is that The Newsroom is airing on HBO, so they aren’t reaching those viewers that could still benefit a little bit from the researched facts that The Newsroom throws around. On the other hand, The Newsroom has True Blood as its lead-in, so chances are at least some people came for the vampires and stay for the politics.

What most attracts me to The Newsroom is its ambition. While it isn’t successful at bringing its vision fully to life yet, what The Newsroom digs at is a certain level of discomfort that currently resides in America’s heart. More and more the American people are becoming aware that something fundamental is deeply wrong with the path their country is traveling on right now and something needs to be done. What the remedy could be is not entirely clear and opinions differ greatly. But what I believe The Newsroom is capable of is opening up the much-needed political discussion again. Instead of nay saying and blocking each other out of sheer principle, Democrats and Republicans need to start talking to each other again and find their common ground instead of battling about their differences. It is this wish for progress and improvement in the political discourse and a call for more involvement of the Everyman in national and international politics that I believe is at the center of The Newsroom and I applaud the show for it.

Let me add on a personal note that I have just moved back to Europe after living in Atlanta for a year and never have I been asked more questions about the path America is on right now than I have in the past few weeks. People in Europe are worried, they are puzzled and they are shocked by some of the reactive, isolationist and panic-driven politics that have come out of America in the past few years. The Republican race for presidential candidacy was regarded more as a circus than a serious political event over here and many are shaking their heads at the direction America seems to want to go in.
It’s not that anybody wants to dislike America over here; it’s just that these days America makes it so damn hard to like it. And The Newsroom is placing a finger on that aching wound and thereby pointing at a place to start remedying the situation.

For quite some time the cable network USA has been cranking out reliable summer shows shot in bright colors to brighten up our sun-filled days. From Burn Notice to White Collar to Suits to Royal Pains. But what has always bothered me about USA’s shows was that they predominantly featured male protagonists doing their male thing. Royal Pains couldn’t  introduce a female Lawson family member if its life depended on it.
Last summer USA finally launched a summer show with a female protagonist: Necessary Roughness.

I was quite pleased with this little show that could. It is currently airing its second season and is finding its voice quite nicely, although I do have some complaints with the show, but more on that later. The premise for NR is simple: Dr. Dani Santino is forty and getting divorced, which leaves her taking care of her two teenage children by herself while at the same time she is hired as the team psychologist for the (fictional) NFL team New York Hawks. Her career takes off and soon she is sought after by the most successful athletes, politicians and high-rollers on the East Coast, who all need her special brand of therapy.

Dani Santino is played by the excellent Callie Thorne (previously Elena McNulty on The Wire, eek!), who rightly claimed a Golden Globe nomination for her work. Dani is sassy, sexy, funny and a pretty damn good mother, even when her teenagers go “typically teenage” on her. She even has a love life in the wake of her divorce, and it is with non-other than the Hawks’ fitness coach Matthew Donnally, played by Whedon-alum Marc Blucas (I still maintain that Buffy should have stayed with Riley, he was good for her!).
The show generally works best when it focuses on either Dani’s work with the Hawks or her home life with her children and her new relationship.

Necessary Roughness would make a fine weekly drama, but it infuses every episode with a “Case of the Week”, making it pretty much a psychology procedural, and a shallow one at that. The patients Dani treats from week to week come to her with all kinds of “crises”, such as a star baseball player who keeps striking out all of the sudden, or a poker player who just can’t win anymore, or a NASCAR driver who suffers from panic attacks after a crash. The way the treatment and therapy of these patients is portrayed on Necessary Roughness gives psychologists everywhere a bad name. It is literally Pop Psychology 101. Every problem can be diagnosed with a bit of hypnosis or a stern talk, while the underlying problem that is supposedly a mystery at the beginning of the episode is mostly painfully obvious from the start.

Of course the baseball player is in love with the woman he usually only sleeps with to break his slump. Of course the NASCAR driver has a childhood trauma about witnessing her sister almost die in a car crash. And while Necessary Roughness hints at the fact that even after diagnosis these patients require further therapy sessions, the show never shows the audience these and we have to assume Dani Santino is not the one to provide these further sessions. She just whips out a diagnosis and sends her patients on their merry way with a referral.

See, the reason why this bugs me so much is that psychology and (psycho)therapy gets such a bad rap in society already. There are still way too many people out there who think that you only need therapy if you’re crazy (whatever that means, anyway) and that is simply not true. Too many people believe that therapy is hokum, and the nilly-willy way in which Necessary Roughness drops in hypnosis, aversion therapy and various “just try picturing such and such” gimmicks is careless, misleading and – sometimes – just plain wrong and inaccurate. (I am sure people who actually work in law enforcement feel the same way about any crime procedurals, btw.)
This hackneyed approach to psychology and psychotherapy is especially insulting in the wake of the excellent HBO show In Treatment, where we could see the “talking cure” lived out to its fullest potential (and even there television could not escape from a few dramatizations).

Necessary Roughness is not a worse offender than other USA shows though, which all feature a procedural aspect, used merely as a plot device, but not included to provide a careful study of the subject matter. In Royal Pains it’s the spectacular medical cases and last minute rescues, in Suits it is the legal system and how lawyers can trick their way out of anything. It’s a formula that seems to work for USA, but I maintain that especially Necessary Roughness would be a far better show if it dropped the procedural aspect, because it is offensive and annoying.

There is enough fodder in the daily workings of an NFL team, a home life with two teenagers, a looming divorce, a tax evasion accusation and a newly blooming relationship for Dani to navigate through episode by episode. Not to mention that the one ongoing case she has, that of wide receiver Terrence King of the New York Hawks, is driving the show ever-onward (and is actually not quite as hackneyed as the other cases).
If the show would shift its focus just a little bit and give Dani a long-standing patient for a seasonal arc, for example, instead of introducing a new one every episode, then I truly believe Necessary Roughness could stand a step above the USA crop (since Burn Notice has run out of steam lately where it used to be USA’s pinnacle).

But let me offer this: if you are looking for a summer show that has a female lead – and such shows are few and far between it seems – then definitely give Necessary Roughness a try. There’s football, there’s wine, there’s Marc Blucas, what more could you ask for to get you through a Wednesday night?

 

Last week CC2K Book Editor Beth Woodward wrote about all the things she thought HBO’s Girls got wrong. This week, TV Editor Phoebe Raven responds with a rebuttal.

I have resisted all season getting in on the discussion about Girls, because it seemed everyone had an opinion and there was nothing I could add to it while tempers flared. But now that the season has ended and everyone has made up their minds about the show anyway, I feel it is time for me to set some things straight that have bothered me in the debate surrousnding Girls all season long.

I believe the relative disappointment with the show that many haters feel comes primarily from wrong expectations and wrong assumptions about television in general and Girls specifically.
The defendants of the show on the other hand are also doing a terrible hob of explaining why Girls matters. I shall attempt to rectify this and maybe offer an approach to Girls that has to neither lead to abundant love for the show nor to seething hatred.

False Assumption No. 1: Lena Dunham is Hannah Horvath (or vice versa)

Whenever I read about Girls, be it a positive review or a negative comment, the trend goes towards equating Hannah with writer/producer/director Lena Dunham. This lead to such arduous complaints that when Hannah proclaims she wants to be “the voice of [her] generation” she is also saying Lena Dunham has the same aspiration. Which is just false. Hannah is not Lena.
While I admit that Lena Dunham has made some rather questionable and unfortunate comments in interviews about Girls, she has also clearly stated that she finds the notion that she supposedly is the voice of her generation ridiculous. She is very aware that she could never speak for everyone, she can hardly speak for anyone but herself, which is exactly what she is doing. She is following the advice each and every writer has ever gotten: “Write what you know.”

If we take Girls as nothing more but a “write what you know” story by Dunham, it becomes much easier to forgive her shortcomings. Yes, she may want to attempt to write in more diverse characters of different skin colors. But she may also suck at it, and critics may judge her for that more harshly than for never trying. Personally, I take less offense from absence than I take from token presence that simply gets it wrong (and Germans as a rule are misrepresented in American TV and movie fare, so don’t even get me started).

Similarly, the body issues that Hannah has with her weight are not to be equated with body issues that Lena Dunham may or may not have herself. The fact of the matter is that while we may wish that our media provide us with a more enlightened take on social issues, this is not the agenda that Girls has. Girls is trying to paint a picture of a specific set of people in a specific age group with a specific set of experiences and the characters of the Girls universe are clearly imprinted with values and attitudes that are adopted from mass media and mainstream societal pressure. It is therefore accurate and realistic that Hannah should have body issues (and have these pegged down to the pound), because most young women do.


False Assumption No. 3: TV Should Show Us a Better, Enlightened Society

This is directly related to the point above. We may wish for TV to present us with role models to aspire to, but sometimes the best thing a TV show can do is throw our twisted reality back in our face. Sometimes the best thing is when TV presents us with something so alienating and yet so real that we come to grips with the fact that all we know is our own personal experience and understanding anyone else is a mountainous task we can work at our entire lives and yet never succeed.
I don’t doubt there are people exactly like Hannah and Marnie and Jessa and Shoshanna out there. Why do you?


False Assumption No. 4: (TV) Characters Have to Be Likable

I fundamentally disagree with the widespread cultural belief that only stories about “likable” characters can be engaging, engrossing and worth telling. I have expressed my problems with liking any single character on Breaking Bad, yet I recognize it is one of the top quality television programs on the air these days.
Consider a movie like No Country For Old Men. Was Anton Chigurh likable?
The stories of people who we would never closely encounter, because we would avoid them for not being “likable” to us, can be the stories that open our eyes the widest or at least broaden our perspective.
What does “likable” mean anyway? Likable to whom? The majority of viewers? Do we really want our TV shows to pander to the mainstream masses and tell us the same stories about the same characters over and over? Don’t we want our television to be challenging, to show us people whom we would never encounter otherwise? Would we rather have our TV shows carelessly toss in a redeeming quality for every character (for example: Hannah is self-absorbed, but she brings cookies to the old lady who lives downstairs and has no family)?

My answer is obviously no. And this is where I believe Girls pushes the envelope and truly is a little groundbreaking, as it has been described by the many TV critic fans of the show. Girls refuses to pander to its audience. It refuses to boil its characters down to a redeeming quality that can easily be shown in a scene or two. Instead Girls aims for alienation, which is precisely the point. The generational gap is becoming so wide, that even young people only a decade separated in age have problems communicating with each other. This is one of the fundamental truths Girls talks about. Girls is not about Generation Y. It is about the unnamed generation that is exiting college right now.

And contrary to popular opinion, I like the character of Marnie quite a lot. She is anything but flat and a spoiled bitch to me. She has clearly expressed her problems before, how much she hates being stuck in her own head, and how much she struggles with having internalized society’s propagated rules about acceptable female behavior. She is as much a product of her environment as Hannah is, and given the circumstances, I think Marnie is managing quite well. In her fight with Hannah at the end of Episode 9 I was squarely in Marnie’s corner.
Yes, she was rambling on about her ex-boyfriend hooking up with another girl two weeks after their break-up, but honestly, most females do this kind of incessant ranting to process their emotions. Usually it’s with their best friend, but all of Marnie’s best friends were conveniently unavailable at the time.

I even like Hannah, who makes it so hard to be liked because she is terrified. Of everything. Of life, of failure, of love, of herself, of her potential, of her potential non-potential… A lot of what Hannah does is motivated by self preservation. Add to that a healthy dose of a delusion of grandeur that is implanted in the American youth by countless speeches about “Be all you can be”, “You can be whatever you want to”, “You can do whatever you set your mind to” and all those other inspirational platitudes, when sometimes nothing would be as helpful as an honest “I think you should do something else”.

False Assumption No. 5: TV Should Be Entertaining

It may seem a little counterintuitive to list this as a false assumption, but bear with me. In general, of course we like our television to be entertaining, but entertainment can be understood on several different levels. The default understanding is that entertainment doesn’t force us to think, but smoothly guides us from one thrill to the next and leaves us with a smile on our face or at least some sort of catharsis. And yeah, I like that kind of popcorn TV, too. But it’s just not enough.
The other kind of entertainment is the one gained from intellectual stimulation, of making us think, think hard, and examine ourselves, our attitudes, our own moral make up. In the long run, this is the more worthwhile entertainment with a sustained effect, but it is also a lot harder to achieve and often requires work on the viewer’s part and a willingness to engage on a level that goes deeper than the surface.
I believe Girls not only demands but also warrants this kind of engagement. The show presents characters and situations that are alienating and frustrating and does so consciously, I believe. If we are frustrated just watching these characters, imagine how frustrating it must be to live them! And somewhere out there are young people living them.

False Assumption No. 6: Girls Should Be Held to a Higher Standard

I fail to understand why certain kinds of complaints are being brought up against Girls that aren’t brought up with every other comedy show on the air. Why are people going to town on Girls for its racial homogeneity, but they are leaving How I Met Your Mother alone?
Why are people bemoaning Girls’ characters are stereotypes, but don’t bash Community for doing (arguably) the same?
What in the world ever gave people the idea that HBO gave us Girls to guide us to the light and present to us the pinnacle of what a television show could and should be?
Why does Girls have to be everything at once when Two and a Half Men gets away with barely being one thing and record viewership?

For me, Girls is a show that makes me think about the mistakes I made when I was Hannah’s age, which wasn’t really all that long ago, but feels like a lifetime. It makes me think about the person I was back then and the person I am now. It makes me laugh. It makes me cry, too. And it makes me happy, simply because it exists.
Personally, I don’t ask anything more of my TV shows.

 

I’ll admit it: I hated HBO’s new series Girls when it debuted a couple of months ago.  I couldn’t stand it.  I thought it failed at every level.  As a drama about the lives of recent college graduates in New York City, it was horribly short-sighted and narrow, relying too heavily on broad archetypes rather than character development. s an ironic comedy, it failed entirely: it just wasn’t funny.

SPOILER ALERT! DO NOT READ if you haven’t seen the Season 2 finale of Game of Thrones!

Let’s not even pretend that I have to justify why I am writing about Game of Thrones again: the Season 2 finale is all the internet has been talking about since Sunday night and you know you can’t get enough geekery about this epic, will-still-be-talked-about-in-ten-years show, so let’s get right down to it.

Having watched the Season Two finale twice so far, I want to scream: “THAT WAS AWESOME!” But instead I find myself screaming: “THAT WAS… PRETTY GOOD!” I wrote about this phenomenon earlier in the season (after episode 4), that I wanted the second season of GoT to get an A, but could only manage to give it an A-. And this assessment hasn’t changed. While I was ridiculously excited at the end of the penultimate episode, “Blackwater”, because it finally featured an awesome battle in a season that was supposedly about clashing kings, the actual Season Finale on Sunday left me oddly giggling and amused instead of fiercely excited and on the edge of my seat. The final image, of the army of White Walkers marching towards the Wall, should have been epic and awesome, but all I could think was “And just like that, Game of Thrones has turned into The Walking Dead.”

Given what I thought about the second season of AMC’s zombie show, this was not a pleasant comparison. And yes, the White Walkers were awesome for the mere existence of their zombie horses alone, and yet I felt they came into the season too late to shock me the way I wanted them to shock me. As I previously stated, I wanted the tension of Season Two of GoT to come much more from the fact that all theses wanna-be kings are fighting each other when there is a much bigger danger approaching from the North. Yet for a good long while there, the White Walkers were nowhere to be seen. Daenerys Targaryen and her dragon babies could have been the other source of danger to the Seven Kingdoms, yet she was also woefully absent a lot, because her storyline moved at a different speed than the War of Kings in Westeros.

So we’ve established I wasn’t happy with the way the rise and fall of tension was handled this season and I would have liked to see more consequential danger looming in the background, yet there were still plenty of things scream-out-loud awesome about this season as well. I actually, literally, was applauding when someone finally whacked Theon. I loved to hate that character this season, although I understood his internal struggle a little bit, but ultimately I am too loyal to the House of Stark to let a traitor like Theon off the hook. So yeah, I cheered when he dropped to the ground (presumably not dead though). AWESOME!

I squealed with joy at the sight of my beloved Khal Drogo too. It was such a delight to have Jason Momoa back for that glorious moment. I hadn’t been aware of how much I missed the energy and the quality of intensity he brought to the screen last year, until I saw him again in this episode. And when Dany walked away from him and their son to save her dragon babies, my heart broke with hers all over again. Besides, Dany is one of my favorite characters anyway. The way she and her dragons brought down that creepy Qarth magician was seriously bad-ass. Those Westeros pansies are gonna have to buck up if they ever want to stand a chance against the Mother of Dragons. AWESOME!

I may have bitched and moaned a bit last year, when Sean Bean was overlooked for Emmy nominations and instead Peter Dinklage got the honor of being nominated and winning for his portrayal of Tyrion Lannister, but I have to say that his work this season appeased much of my anger about this snafu from last year. Dinklage has been nothing short of stellar all season long and Tyrion’s and Shea’s love story may just be my favorite of the entire franchise so far. (And no, this has nothing to do with the fact that the actress, Sibil Kekilli, is German and I think it’s hella cool to have a German actress in the best TV show in the world right now!) Needless to say their scene in Tyrion’s new “chambers” in the season finale just slayed me. I was sobbing like a little girl when she said “You have a shit memory. I am yours and you are mine.” AWESOME!

And then there were the small awesome moments: how Sansa actually giggled with glee walking away from Joffrey and his dismissal of her; how Jaqen H'ghar changed his face; how Brienne cut down three men in (almost) one fell swoop; and the dawning realization that – FUCK – the White Walkers are marching on Westeros, and Winterfell, the bastion against the dangers from the North, is EMTPY AND BURNED TO THE GROUND.

All in all, there was a fair amount of awesome packed into that season finale, which came as the pay-off ofa season, that had many pitfalls and was uneven and labored in a lot of places. And yet, there was a lot of evolution in the second season as well. While some critics (and lovers) of the show still take issue with the fact that the women are scantily clad even when there is no need for it, the amount of “sexposition” has been significantly scaled back. In fact, all of the sex has been scaled back compared to last season, which is all too fitting in a season that deals with things much grimmer and darker still than the dealings of Season One.

Given how impossibly complicated and intricate some of the storylines were, I thought the season as a whole handled the balance of it fairly well, even though some characters fell flatter than I had wished they would (among them Ros, Stannis, and Jon Snow, who is one of my favorite characters generally, he just didn’t get enough meaty story this year, just a bunch of walking through snow, being berated.) This is fair criticism that I don’t wish to sweep aside with the comment, “I bet this is more fleshed out in the books!”, which has become the go-to excuse for many people, who criticize Game of Thrones the TV Show, and yet feel the need to cushion that criticism. I think we are well within our rights and duty to point out where the show faltered this season, because it’s only going to get more complicated from here on out, so we want the makers of the show to be on their toes and take note of the things they can improve upon.

I believe Season 1 packed such a punch because it had a fairly singular major story arc that culminated in one of the most iconic on-screen deaths for decades to come. It was easy to rave about Season 1 of Game of Thrones. It is a bit harder to rave about Season 2, not only for the fact that I couldn’t for the life of me explain all of the events of the season to someone who hasn’t watched it. Nevertheless, by now we all have our favorite characters, who we root for and cheer on, always fearing they might be next to go, because if Renly’s death proved anything once again, it is that no one is safe in Westeros and beyond.
In the end, I am sticking to my guns and giving Season 2 of Game of Thrones an A-.

How about you?

While it’s not exactly a natural law of television, it’s a commonly accepted trend that a sitcom needs time to find itself when starting out. Shows like Cheers that spring fully grown from the brow of their creators are an exception rather than the norm, as most comedy pilots and early episodes are the writers throwing things at the wall to see what sticks, tailoring stories and dialogue to what their ensembles can do and the world they want to build for these characters. In the last few years alone, Community, Parks and Recreation, Cougar Town, Happy Endings and Raising Hope are easy examples of this: shows that had fair-to-poor pilots but by the end of their first season were firing on all cylinders.

My undying love for HBO’s fantasy epic Game of Thrones was firmly established last year. During the initial airing of the first season I literally could not shut up about the show, I dedicated this column to a discussion of GoT not once but twice (and podcasted about it a lot too) and wrote a special tribute to Sean Bean, who was the show’s star at the time. So now that we are four episodes into the second season, it is about time I weigh in on its progress, don’t you think?!

As far as situating myself in the context of the general George R.R. Martin/A Song of Ice and Fire-universe, let me once again state that I have not read the books. I started reading the first book a few weeks ago, but I firmly plan not to read ahead of where the show is, because I want to judge the show on its own merits. Meaning I want it first and foremost to be a successful TV show and you won’t find me dissecting where it deviated from the books. Different mediums call for different ways of storytelling and I am going to leave it at that.

Even though I might break out a little bit of criticism of GoT’s second season in the following paragraphs, let me also clearly state that it is my favorite show currently on television (Justified ended its third season a couple weeks ago [on a heartbreaking note that gave me melancholic dreams!], so I feel justified saying this [sorry for the bad pun]).
I am of the conviction that you can love without being blind to the flaws of whom or what you love. If you don’t share this belief, then you can feel free to be offended by any of my criticisms of Season Two of Game of Thrones, based on the book "A Clash of Kings" by George R.R. Martin.

If there is one sentiment I have heard a lot over these past four weeks of Season Two it has been that people are having a hard time keeping track of all the characters and staying clear on exactly who is fighting whom and for what. (Again, readers of the books might have an easier time with this.) It’s a sentiment I can understand very well, even though I thankfully am one of those people who is good with names, faces and remembering things from previous episodes. So while I have managed to be able to keep all the characters apart and remember who is up against what other army, I can share the sentiment that, generally, this second season feels more disjointed than I would like, and yet I see why there is little that can be done about this.

In a book you always have the option of flipping back a couple of pages or looking at the map again. A TV show has to find other means to remind viewers of circumstances and geographic locations and the larger the character ensemble becomes, the harder it gets to accomplish all these tasks within a single episode. Last Sunday’s episode, “Garden of Bones” (Episode 4 of Season 2) is a perfect example of how complicated the storytelling and exposition can become and where the pitfalls lie. In my opinion, “Garden of Bones” was one of the weakest episodes of the entire show so far and I will explain why.

While I, as I said, had been doing alright keeping up with who was fighting whom, the tension of these ongoing battles seemed to be fading rather than being ratcheted up from week to week. As the war between Robb Stark and Tywin Lannister’s army continues to claim lives, Joffrey keeps wreaking havoc in King’s Landing and Renly and Stannis Baratheon are occupied fighting each other while something evil is lurking behind The Wall in the North, the stakes should be rising with each episode. As a viewer, we should be at the edge of our seat, yelling at all these stupid wanna-be kings to get their act together, because something far worse is coming.

Instead we get a flat scene like the one on “Garden of Bones” where Renly and Stannis meet in a field. For what it’s worth, this should have been one of the most tension-filled scenes of the season yet. These are two brothers, who loved each other once, who share a common enemy – the Lannisters – and have a common goal – securing the Iron Throne for the Baratheon family – and yet they are on the verge of destroying each other instead of uniting for the good of the realm. Add to this the fact that the Starks at one point used to support Stannis’ claim to the throne and you should have a powder keg of twists and turns these brothers have to navigate through. Instead we got a short scene of posturing, in which Catelyn Stark made a diplomatic fool of herself and Melisandre (the red-haired priestess) attempts to strike fear into Renly’s heart by delivering one of her vague, oracle-like lines.

The fact that as a “mere” viewer of the TV show we have no idea of where this meeting takes place and how many soldiers each of these brothers actually commands, make the battle between the brothers seem inconsequential. It is unclear what the consequences would be if Stannis and Renly fought it out between each other instead of helping out Robb Stark. For all we know, Robb is doing quite well against Tywin Lannister’s army, so why should we care if these Baratheon boneheads want to kill each other?

A similar problem plagued the final scene of “Garden of Bones”, in which Melisandre gives birth to a Dark Shadow (I refer to that thing as Evil Jesus, but suit yourself). The show does not sufficiently establish where this scene takes place. Just from the action on screen it looks to be an unimpressive sewer tunnel on some deserted island. Why does the magical Shadow Baby have to be born there? And while this is a magical baby and the passing of time has always been a bit vague on Game of Thrones, are we to assume Melisandre was pregnant for a day, a week, a month, or a year? How long exactly has this in-fighting between all the claim-to-be-kings been going on? We don’t know and we can’t know, unless we have read the books. And any TV show that requires you to read a book is a failed TV show.

Having such a huge ensemble is costly, meaning that certain characters are missing from every other episode. “Garden of Bones” saw Cersei Lannister talked about plenty, but she did not appear on screen. Neither did Jon Snow and Samwell Tarly beyond the wall. And Daenerys Targaryan has been a mere token so far, which is partly necessitated by the fact that her storyline moves a lot slower than the warmongering between the claimed kings. Basically, she wanders the desert with her horde for a damn long time.
The show really can’t find many ways around this large ensemble cast and the problems it creates though. Some characters have already been collapsed into one for the show and others have been left out completely. My gripe isn’t at all with the large ensemble at all. Just because I don’t see Jon Snow for an episode does not mean I forget about him.

However, a large ensemble forces the show into a lot of exposition scenes, which have never been a strength of the show, but which it previously handled with more aplomb than in Episode 4 of the second season, where some characters were blatantly name-dropped, while other curiously refused to state their name. And who was not annoyed by the clumsy way Robb Stark’s love interest was introduced?
“Garden of Bones” was written by Vanessa Taylor, who has also joined the ranks of co-executive producer of the show this season. She may have had the bad fortune that her episode aired one week after the excellently written episode “What Is Dead May Never Die”, penned by Bryan Cogman, who can also lay claim to one of Season 1’s best episodes, “Cripples, Bastards, and Broken Things” (Season 1, Ep 4). So by comparison, Taylor could only lose and she had to contribute a piece of the puzzle that is ultimately important, but just transition from one place of storytelling to another. Because except for the birth of Shadow Baby and Arya becoming Tywin Lannister’s cup-holder, this latest episode contained little more than posturing, negotiations and mental games.

Having said all this though, I am more than confident that Game of Thrones will c(l)ash in on all the conflicts, tensions and dilemmas it has been setting up so far. We have yet to see an all-out battle (we’ve only seen the beginnings and aftermaths so far), or a scene in which some of these wanna-be kings actually meet and dish it out (i.e. clash), and there have been no surprising deaths, but we all know this can’t last for long. And I praise Game of Thrones for this way of storytelling, for patiently building towards a climax (or several thereof) instead of throwing around meaningless antics in every episode just to pull viewers in. Because GoT is set in a fantasy realm, I am willing to suspend my disbelief and go along with storylines that wouldn’t make much sense to me on other shows. I don’t particularly need to know how much time has passed at any given point in the story (though a hint or two would be appreciated) and I have plenty of characters I am rooting for so that every episode features at least one of them.

Complaining about Game of Thrones feels a little icky, like complaining you got an A- instead of an A on an exam. But the fact of the matter is that we have seen Game of Thrones be an overachiever so many times that we have come to expect that kind of quality and emotional pay-off from the show and are left a little disappointed when it doesn’t deliver on it every single week. These are minor transgressions, but they bug us nonetheless, because if there is one thing I don’t want Game of Thrones to have, it’s chinks in the armor. I have enough trouble defending this show to genre snobs as it is, I don’t want those critics to have any more ammunition than all the sexposition and unequally gendered nudity is already giving them.

In conclusion, Season Two of Game of Thrones gets an A- from me so far. But I really, really want it to get an A.