Our beloved Television Collision editor Phoebe is out this week (not through any tampering of my doing), leaving me in charge of dispersing pertinent television information to her legion of fans. Hopefully I do her justice!
With that I decided to discuss the world of television outside the confines of the United States…the BBC. With the rise of British television shows being adapted for US shores there has to be a reason, right? That’s because British television has a lot to offer that US shows don’t (things other than more graphic depictions of sex and nudity). So let’s say you’re a person who doesn’t venture into outside television, you’re comfortable with your True Blood and Real Housewives of Orange County, but you want to see what all the fuss is about. Well I’ve come up with a handy guide of five shows to seek out in order to look smart in front of your BBC-loving friends. They’re separated into levels, from the beginner to the more advanced viewer depending on your interest and pre-existing knowledge. Pretty soon you’ll understand why everyone says British shows have better stories, and will probably be sporting a fake British accent to boot.
CC2K's Big Ross checks in from SDCC with a recap of the panel for HBO's hit new show "Game of Thrones".
Writers and producers David Benioff and D.B. Weiss as well as Emilia Clarke (Daenerys Targaryen), Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Jaime Lannister), Kit Harrington (Jon Snow), Jason Momoa (Khal Drogo), and the awesome Peter Dinklage (Tyrion Lannister) sat on the panel, and author George R.R. Martin moderated.
By far the biggest and most anticipated panel of the day in Ballroom 20 was HBO’s Game of Thrones. After a 10 minute video recap of the first season, Martin brought out the cast members to resounding applause for a Q&A session. One of the first questions Martin asked was to Benioff and Weiss on just how they came to be involved in this series. Benioff shared an anecdote about someone sending the books to him almost 6 years ago, and various attempts through the years by others in Hollywood to adapt the first novel into a film, in particular one attempt at a 2 and 1/2 hour PG-13 film. Can you imagine? Thank Crom for HBO.
Another fun question Martin posed to Jason Momoa was, "Who would win in a fight, Khal Drogo or Conan?" Momoa, who takes on the role of the famous Barbarian later this summer, chuckled and replied, "between you and me George, Drogo would kick Conan's ass." Momoa then launched into some of Drogo's signature and explosive dialogue, to resounding cheers from the audience.
Martin then asked Benioff and Weiss what fans might expect on the season 1 DVDs. Interestingly, Benioff said that there was very little unused footage, so don't expect much in the way of deleted scenes. But he did say that they are working on some "exciting" supplementary material and said they are planning to include the first taped auditions of every major cast member. Of note, Benioff remarked that Jason Momoa's audition was particularly memorable, as he performed a traditional hakka dance that single-handedly won him the role of Drogo. This led to some insights from Momoa that the language of Drogo's people, which he described as a made-up mix of German and Arabic, was both beautiful and a crazy mix of "Jabba the Hutt and Fonzie Bear". Momoa also said that the iconic scene where Drogo rips out the throat of a challenger was one he came up with and pushed for. Having come off of filming Conan the Barbarian, he desperately wanted a scene that showcased Drogo as one of the baddest men that ever was. Even though it wasn't in the book, it made it into the show. And I think we're all grateful for that.
As for season 2, Benioff is excited to bring in a bunch of new characters, and thinks that while A Clash of Kings is doable in a single season, assuming that there is a third, they are still not sure how they will handle it, as A Storm of Swords" is "just too big" for a single season. Whether it will be drastically abridged or broken into multiple seasons remains to be determined. Though I found it very interesting that Benioff referenced a particular scene in the third book (simply as scene RW to avoid spoilers) that is his personal dream to reach. If they do that, he will be perfectly content with the show.
There were almost as many questions from the fans for Martin as for the cast, and of note two were about how he will end the series and how he feels about killing off his characters. Martin, who seems like just a humble, great, uber-geek of a guy, answered that he mourns all of the characters that he kills off, especially those that serve as viewpoint characters for driving the narrative. As for the ending, he is actively considering it; he is planning two more books, and he hopes to bring everything together as effectively as it sits partially formed in his imagination. He remarked that he is a fan of bittersweet endings, and spoke of how much he likes the Scouring of the Shire at the end of LOTR. Martin said he hopes to write an ending half as good as Tolkien's epic.
One final note: I've read in several places online that Martin's books and the HBO series are only (or mostly) enjoyed by men and boys, that this is not a story for women. I respectfully disagree, and judging by the volume and pervasiveness of female-generated cat-calls for Harrington, Coster-Waldau, and Momoa as well as the number of women asking questions, Game of Thrones is most certainly NOT just for the boys.
Stay tuned for more updates from SDCC 2011!
TNT is currently ariring the second season of Falling Skies and has already picked up the show for Season 3, yet CC2K TV Editor Phoebe Raven still maintains that it is a lazy show, for all the reasons she already explained last year when talking about Season 1.
It premiered to record-breaking numbers and received a renewal for a second season, but after six aired episodes I am coming out of the woodworks and saying it out loud: Falling Skies is bad television and anyone who claims otherwise is settling for mediocre at best, when we all know that in life you should never, ever settle for anything.
It’s tempting to go easy on Falling Skies, because it is a summer show, and it airs on TNT, and it’s about an alien invasion and it stars Moon Bloodgood and it’s executive produced by Steven Spielberg; all factors that mitigate your opinion and tend to lower the standard you hold Falling Skies to. Basically, you want it to be good. But if we fall prey to these easy excuses and rush to defend what is a lackluster show even in its “best” moments, then we are the ones to blame for all the other shows we will be bombarded with that will follow suit and operate on a similar level of quality. If we want our television programming to become higher quality in general, we need to start demanding better shows by reprimanding the bad ones more harshly.
In the past few weeks I have revealed that I have my general quarrels with Summer TV and most of these stem from my reluctance to operate under the general assumption that during the summer we are supposed to lower our expectations when it comes to television. I refuse to do so, because after all summer is also the season that gives us shows like Mad Men (this year being an exception), Breaking Bad (the Season 4 premiere Sunday was all kinds of mind-blowing) and Luther (alright, that’s British, but I don’t care). What I expect of television stays the same year-round and I doubt many viewers would be as patient and accepting of Falling Skies if it aired during the regular Fall Season.
Falling Skies is Spielbergian in more ways than I care to recount and to me this boils down to exactly one problem: it’s a thing of the past. Spielberg stopped being hip sometime in the 90s and since then the way stories are told in television and movies alike have progressed and make what Spielberg did instantly appear dated to all of us. The morals, the pacing, the storytelling technique, the plot structure of Falling Skies – it all rings oddly familiar (because we have seen it in countless films in the 90s) and has no potential to surprise us, neither with plot twists nor with unique, shaded messages.
Falling Skies isn’t terrible because it is terrible. It is terrible because it is ordinary and there is no excuse for that at this point in time anymore. Not when the history of “alien invasion” franchises is as long and diversified as it is and competition in the world of TV is as fierce as it is right now. Falling Skies is trite. It has nothing, absolutely nothing new to say about human nature, family, friends, society or war. It merely re-trods paths other movies and shows have traveled before, and traveled with more style and more insight.
The four weeks Falling Skies supposedly spent “world-building” were a dreadful bore, dragging along, not really “building” much of anything, because the show’s perspective is so narrow, it is impossible to draw conclusions about the “world” the show is supposed to be set in. The most interesting part of the story – how the aliens came and what their first attack looked like – was skipped over in a thirty-second voice-over at the very beginning of an overly long 2-hour series premiere event. With this opening, Falling Skies force-fed us the old logic that used to go into every alien invasion movie made before Contact: that aliens will come, ask no questions and simply go about destroying the Earth for no good or apparent reason whatsoever, because aliens are always evil like that. And while I understand that something you can’t rationally explain is always more scary than something explicable, it makes absolutely no sense for a life form that is so advanced it can travel through entire galaxies in search for other forms of life to then go ahead and eradicate that other form of life it has flown light years through space to find. Even we humans are sending robots to Mars to take samples and study any kind of life we might find there. Are we going to bomb Mars into oblivion if we find intelligent life there (which we won’t, but that’s not my point)?
And why do aliens have to be so humanoid anyway? I think aliens should be so “alien” that we can’t even tell how they function. What’s with the lack of imagination of giving the aliens heads and eyes and mouths and arms and maternal instincts? Falling Skies is falling victim to the anthropic principle all over the place.
But for all the humanoid features the aliens possess, the actual humans in Falling Skies are actually barely human at all, because they lack any emotional depth or nuance. Spielberg himself back in the day rarely dealt in subtlety and shading, but we’ve come a long way since then and I am tired of forgiving TV shows for shortcomings they should be able to avoid by now, simply by learning from past mistakes. Is this an unfair charge to bring against Falling Skies exclusively? Sure. There are many other shows out there equally at fault, but Falling Skies pretends to be big in scope and trajectory and yet fails to set up its own proper groundwork, which makes it all the more infuriating. At least some of the other shows (like Suits, Necessary Roughness, Hawthorne, The Glades or Royal Pains) don’t pretend to be about anything global and life-changing for all of humanity while forgetting to show us what “being human” actually means. Come to think of it, Hawthorne has been doing a pretty good job in its third season so far with small, subtle, quiet moments of humanity that elicit actual emotion in the viewer.
Falling Skies relies on a lot of defaults in the human mind, like the default position that children are our future, extremely valuable and need to be protected by all means, hence parents are willing to do stupid things in order to save the kids. It’s fine for the parents to lose their common sense when the fate of the children hangs in the balance, but the non-parents and the military leaders should keep their heads and reign people in when that happens. At the rate the group of humans in Falling Skies is going, I am wondering each and every week how in the hell they haven’t all been shot by the aliens already.
Nothing in Falling Skies feels immediate, not even the sense of danger and given that this is a show about the supposed “end of the world as we know it”, that’s a pretty bad thing to say. The problem is that most of the tragic and existential casualties happened off-screen, before we as the viewers ever entered the show’s universe, so the sense of loss the characters are feeling means nothing to us and relies too much on the socially agreed upon norm that losing a loved one is horrible. Falling Skies does a lot of talking and not enough showing. Instead of talking about all the children that were lost, how about you give us some flashbacks of the early days of the alien invasion and let us actually see some of the disaster, panic and deaths?
Irrationality and flip-flopping rule in the world of Falling Skies. The humans make one horrible (and illogical) decision after the other and generally suck at even the most basic survival techniques. Have they never seen the countless alien invasion and zombie apocalypse movies and learned their lesson? (Incidentally, this was also a complaint I had with The Walking Dead, in which everyone seemed ignorant of the mere concept of “zombies”, placing the characters in a distinctly different world than our own, even though it sure looked exactly like ours.)
The show is generally derivative and stereotypical, right down to calling the aliens “critters” (employing the military technique of giving your enemy a derogatory nickname in order to dehumanize them and make it easier to kill them) and blatantly stealing moves from previous alien franchises (and no, these do not count as homage, because then you would have to do it with less of a self-important attitude than Falling Skies displays). And while these points of criticism are true for other shows as well, they are particularly harmful and obvious precisely because apocalypse movies and shows (whether by alien or zombies or natural disasters) have such a long history. Falling Skies follows a tradition of alien invasion franchises that has seen many dark days and the makers should have learned their lesson. Instead they opted to go for a carbon-copy of basically every 90s alien movie you have seen and then collaged them into an altogether forgettable and irrelevant Summer TV show void of emotional nuances and stocked up to the roofs with human imperialism and entitlement.
Need more TV coverage?
Then unfortunately this week you're out of luck. Blame the US General Consulate for demanding my presence this past week and thus preventing me from watching my usual amount of television. But the podcast will be back, stay tuned. And in the meantime, follow me on Twitter, where I talk TV all day, every day.
A few weeks ago in the "Television Collision Podcast Extra" (always found at the bottom of these columns) I briefly talked about a trend I have been observing in the world of TV for a while now and this week I want to address it in more detail: the trend of the feature-length pilot or double-episode premiere event.
As I had also mentioned in said podcast, I am unsure how I feel about this development of flinging two episodes of a new show at us in one fell swoop, though I think I am coming down more and more on the side of not endorsing it. But let’s start with the basics.
We all know that television is a business, as much as us critics sometimes like to pretend it is an art form. It can be that, too, but mainly it is a business, which means the makers of television generally approach TV shows in general and singular episodes in particular from an angle of ‘functionality’. In other words, they ask themselves “What is a pilot episode of a TV show supposed to do?”
There are many easy answers to this question and most of them center around some form of ‘introduction’ and ‘exposition’. Even when a show starts with a cold open that throws the audience right into the thick of things, eventually every pilot episode will slow down for a minute to let us catch our breath and sort through the characters we have met so far. Everything in a pilot is new to the audience (except for maybe the info they got from trailers or previews), so they need to be introduced to the setting, the characters, the plot, the atmosphere, the tone, the visual composition, the pacing… you get the idea.
That’s a lot of stuff to cram into one episode. And the whole ordeal becomes even trickier when you consider that not only does the audience need to be introduced to all of this, they also have to be left “wanting more”, so they will tune in again. All of these introductions need to be compelling enough and hint at enough deeper levels, yet to be discovered, to pique an interest in the viewer. Yes, the conception of a good pilot episode is one of the touchstone tests any maker of television has to pass and many fail.
In the literary world there is a certain little saying, “Don’t judge a book by its cover”. The same should apply to the world of TV, “Don’t judge a show by its pilot”. Plenty of good shows opened with a fairly terrible pilot (I am looking at you, Buffy), but found their footing quickly. What’s important to remember is that often the show’s creators won’t have a clear picture of where they ultimately want to take a show either and particularly pilot episodes are often shot months in advance of any other episodes, simply to give the networks something to look at and decide whether or not to even order more episodes. (This is also why there are so many “unaired pilots” floating around the net of all the shows that never even made it to a network order.)
Given then how complicated it is to conceive a pilot episode that is enticing enough to network executives to order a show to series as well as being appealing to audiences, one can understand the urge within the show’s creator to expand the pilot episode beyond the usual 40-44 minutes. I believe in many cases, the network execs even encourage this, because then they can promote the whole thing as “the two-hour premiere event”, which just sounds so much cooler in the ads.
And then you end up with something like that Necessary Roughness pilot two weeks on USA, which felt like a shortened TV movie (in this case also particularly because the story arc came to such a neat conclusion, seemingly), but not like the kick-off to a summer-long TV show.
A slightly different, albeit arguably even worse approach – of which the showrunners are absolved, they have nothing to do with it – is simply airing two episodes back to back, which is a network scheduling decision. They unceremoniously cut out most of the credits from the pilot episode and dump the audience right into Episode 2, which is something neither the audience nor the showrunners greatly appreciate. Even if a pilot episode is muddled in its execution, most of the time the last scene is one laden with over- and undertones, hinting at more without giving it yet and coaxing a very specific emotion out of the viewer. Maybe there’s even a cliffhanger. In any case, a lot of thought goes into that ending scene, possibly even more than went into the opening scene of the pilot. Dumping the second episode right at the end of the pilot destroys any hope the final scene of the pilot had of leaving a lingering impression. Because how are we supposed to find out if something had lingered with us if we are immediately bombarded with more content?
The main problem I have with feature-length pilots or “double-episode opening events” is this: I think it demands too much commitment. No, I am not a commit-o-phobe, thank you very much, and yes, I am usually the one arguing against “instant gratification” and for more patience in TV viewing. However, “patience” does not mean “willingly sitting in front of your screen twice as long, because the network thinks you should”. The kind of patience I usually call for is one that applies to the stories that our shows are telling us and the pacing they use to do so.
What I mean by “demanding too much commitment” is easily explained when you think of it as a social interaction. Here is a stranger (the TV show) introducing themselves to you with all the pleasantries and the flirting that (might) go into it. Now, if you’re anything like me, you don’t want to hear their whole life story crammed into the next 80-88 minutes, in fact, you’d think that would be overkill. Instead, you appreciate the fact that they make a few jokes, flash you a smile, drop a hint that there might be some interesting stories they could tell and then they leave you with a pleasant “See you around sometime, hopefully”. That’s the kind of interaction you want from your TV pilots, too.
TV pilots should flirt with you, instead of hitting you over the head. And frankly, when you ask me to commit to 80 minutes with people I have never met and I am not even sure I am going to like, you are asking too much of me, “series kick-off event”.
Of course this is embedded into the larger trend in the world of TV that shows have to be a hit from the get-go, there is very little patience (ah, there’s that word again) for audience-building these days. Best case scenario: a new show comes with an already built-in fan base, such as True Blood or Game of Thrones came with the readers of the books. If the show is “original”, then it better establish its voice and approach on the spot, so the audience can immediately call a spade and spade and be sure what they are in for if they watch. And if by Episode 3 your numbers have flat-lined, then you might as well pack your bags and go home, especially if you’re a summer show.
However, throwing Episode 2 down the chute right after Episode 1 doesn’t do anyone any favors, because mostly it just screams “We know our pilot is no good, but please, take a look at Episode 2 and you will see how great our show is”, i.e. it reeks of desperation. These days I appreciate shows even more that are confident enough to just run with a pilot, even if it is flawed. I am much more likely to forgive such shortcomings if I am not immediately bludgeoned over the head with the hastened afterthought of Episode 2. I took much more kindly to ABC’s 40- minute pilot presentation of Combat Hospital than I did to USA’s 80-minute launch for Suits or AMC’s “two-episode event” at the beginning of The Killing’s run.
If I was in any position to give advice about TV, it would go something like this: If you’re the creator of a TV show and you feel your pilot isn’t getting your point across and you would love to have five minutes of airtime after its run to address the viewer directly and explain how great your show will become if they just stick with it, then go back and make a better pilot. And if you feel the urge rising to make a feature-length pilot, then stop thinking in terms of “once I get the exposition out of the way, I can start telling my story” and instead make your exposition your story. It won’t just improve your pilot, it will improve your entire show, believe me.
If you’re a network executive who has ordered a show to series based on a mediocre pilot and a lot of supplementary talk by the show’s creator about which great direction the show is going to take as soon as the exposition is “out of the way”, then resist the urge to throw Episode 2 away on a whim by airing it right after the pilot. If the pilot sucks, people are very likely to just switch to another channel, hence they will never see Episode 2 and if by accident the next week they tune into the show again, they will be lost, because they are now watching Episode 3. And the viewers who actually stick around for Episode 2 might just be insulted at your demand for such a high level of commitment (there are other shows on other networks they may want to watch at the same time, instead of your two-hour event) and hence not come back for Episode 3 next week. Either way, you lose viewers.
Instead, make retrospective positivity work for you. To wit: yeah, the pilot may be terrible/mediocre, but the course of the week will mellow the audience’s perception and memory and by the time Episode 2 is airing, they will shrug their shoulders saying “It wasn’t THAT bad last time” and tune in.
Many great TV shows started out with mediocre pilots at best, but in the end their overall quality won out. If only there wasn’t such a clamoring for “instant appeal” and “instant viewership” and “instant coffee”, TV could actually be more of an art form and judging by how much that Picasso painting was auctioned off for last year, art can also be quite the lucrative business, if you let it. It’s not about how good your pilot is, it’s about the vision you’re selling. Make it a good one, and we’ll watch, bad pilots be damned.
Need more TV coverage? Listen to a new “Television Collision: Podcast Extra", Episode 12 below.
Topics include True Blood (yay for Amnesia Eric), Combat Hospital (yay for Canadian TV), Franklin & Bash (yay for witty banter) and Breaking Bad (all-shattering yay!).
It’s been almost a week since the finale of The Voice aired and Javier Colon was crowned the winner, so I assume the dust has settled and now we can take a step back and examine what went right and what went wrong in this first season of “America’s most exciting singing competition”.
Before we get started, I have to get one thing out of the way: I was Team Dia Frampton all the way, mostly because from the beginning I was on Team Blake Shelton. But I won’t deny that Javier is a great singer, if he can keep his runs and ad-libs under control and he deserved to get a shot at a successful music career, after the many times his record deals fell through (I wonder why that happened? Maybe his lack of a marketable persona? Humble and graceful only takes you so far in this Lady GaGa world, you know.)
So now that we have established I might be a little bit biased when it comes to judging the judges (oh, yeah, I will!) in favor of Blake, let’s take a general look at the ups and downs of the American version of The Voice.
While I appreciated the fact that very few unsuccessful auditions were shown and none of the embarrassing ones even made it onto the air at all, the audition process for The Voice felt all kinds of staged and fake, there was no immediacy to it. It was painfully obvious there had been pre-auditions, so that the four celebrity judges wouldn’t have to get cancer of the ears. I understand the need for these pre-auditions and by no means would I want to see anything of American Idol proportions in terms of non-musical people screeching and belting a song, but I think The Voice would benefit from a little more diversity in the audition round. Yes, it’s hard to watch people sing and have no judge turn around (at least it is for me, I am a sympathetic gal), but it would enable us to judge the talent of the singers who do make it against their competition, hence we could decide whether we really agree these few people were truly the best of the bunch, or just the best that were shown to us.
What would furthermore make the audition episodes of The Voice feel more authentic and hence worthy to invest emotionally in, would be the sense that the celebrity judges actually put in some time and effort to find these voices they choose to be on their teams. This time around it was painfully obvious all the auditions took place in one day (no one changed outfits, didn’t you notice?). I can’t really give the judges a lot of credit for just sitting there for one day and choosing four singers each out of seemingly only 20 presented to them. I want these judges to be involved in more rounds of auditions to streamline the talent they really feel is worthy of promoting, because I have a feeling someone like Cee Lo Green might let other artists through than some NBC casting director.
Also, next time around, I would love to see more duos or groups audition, because we already have enough solo singers that won a competition show, we need some diversity in that area as well. Plus, having duos or groups around opens up the song palette by a whole lot, because there are songs you simply can’t sing as a solo artist.
Narrowing Down the Teams
After all the (staged) hoopla that went into forming each coach’s team of four (and all that beautiful grade school math Carson Daly did for us in the process), these teams were cut right back down to size awfully quickly. So quickly in fact, that I was still trying to sort the singers in my head and figuring out who was on which team, when half of them were already gone again. I didn’t think that was fair to those who got cut at all. They barely had a chance to show what they could do and then they had to battle it out amongst their own teammates? That didn’t make much sense to me, because it totally kills all team spirit that could arise in this first round of competition. I don’t know how flexible the rules are, given that The Voice is a Dutch concept NBC bought the American broadcasting rights to, but I would like to either see these first rounds extended – as in only one person per team has to go home each week – or I would like a system more like the one on X Factor, where the teams are competing against each other, hence one judge might end up with two acts in the final, while another team might lose in the semifinals already.
The selection of judges was good, because they were all very distinct and different from each other. All four judges will also be back for Season 2, no need to change a winning team. However, let’s take a closer look at each of the judges’ performances.
Adam Levine: I admire Adam for having the cojones to not split his judge’s points evenly between his two final artists. Finally, some judging was going on. Regardless of the fact that America would have voted Javier through to the finals anyway, it was good to see that Adam chose a clear side instead of pretending like everything is peaches. The music industry is cutthroat, and the sooner the contestants get a taste of that (although not in a mean, Simon Cowell-y way, please!), the better. Other than that, I really didn’t care for the way Adam had to start all his critiques with “Hi, Contestant X! How are you?” Just answer the question Carson Daly asked you, Adam, no matter how inane it might be.
Cee Lo Green: Cee Lo writes bad poetry (if that thing he read out can even be considered poetry at all) and I didn’t feel his commitment to “difference” came through enough. At the end of the day, he had good singers on his team, but no one that screamed “I am an artist” to me, which was supposedly what Cee Lo was looking for. Vicci Martinez may have had a better shot at winning if her emotional back story of her father putting his own musical pursuits on hold to support his family would have been mentioned earlier than the semifinals. Other than that, Cee Lo talked almost as much nonsense as Christina Aguilera and to this day I can’t understand what those bubblegum twins were doing on his team in the first place.
Christina Aguilera: she’s a bit loopy in the head, but she actually came across more personable than I had expected. I liked that she put the boys in their place every now and then, even though her boobs always distracted me from anything else going on at any particular moment. I don’t particularly care for Christina’s singing (too many runs and ad-libs here too, maybe Adam Levine should coach her too, he did a good job reigning Javier in), but she put together a strong team. Although I have the sneaking suspicion that while she may want to promote female talent, she really isn’t all that good at being friends with girls. There wasn’t much personal warmth coming from Christina, only a lot of professional love.
Blake Shelton: I had no idea who that dude even was when I first saw him (country music isn’t so big over here in Europe), but he quickly won me over with his jokes and the genuine Poppa Bear love he had for the girls on his team. Yes, Xenia was awkward, but she was talented and if it wasn’t for people like Blake, seeing past the insecurities and believing in the artistic ability of young people nonetheless, then the music business would be a barren place for sure. Blake was the only judge I truly believed when he talked about how much he cared about the members on his team. And also, the dude just makes me laugh on his Twitter feed.
Guest Singers, Duets With Coaches and All That Hoopla
The longer The Voice went on, the more I forgot that it was supposed to be a singing competition show, showcasing people who could actually sing. It turned more into a platform for the judges to show off, not only their personal talents (in duets with their contestants, group performances with each other or simply by performing their latest single), but also the talents of all their friends and family. Cee Lo’s incessant name-dropping was bad enough, but why did the finale of The Voice have to turn into “Let’s see which of our judges can drag in the biggest name to duet with their contestants”?
This was totally unnecessary and shifted the focus away from the actual contestants way too much. Instead, they should have had all the contestants sing two solo songs in the final, because they are the ones still trying to build a fan base, while the judges should feel secure enough in their position not have to hog the spotlight. If you’re really as established in the biz as you want the audience to believe you are, then you don’t need to hijack “America’s most exciting singing competition” for your own promotional purposes. That was just whack. One group performance by the judges would have been fine, but that should have been the end of it. Or do you see the judges of So You Think You Can Dance get up on stage and dance every week?
Ugh. Just ugh. Carson Daly may just be the least likable host of a competition show ever. Yes, worse than Ryan Seacrest. He had no chemistry with the contestants at all, expressed no joy or sorrow at their situation (take hints from Cat Deeley on how to do that!) and asked the most insipid questions I have ever heard. And to top it all off, he introduced himself by name after every single commercial break. He was just as desperate for attention as the judges and it just read “douche bag” to me. He either needs to grow a more likable personality or NBC needs to find another host for Season 2. Daly damn near ruined the whole thing for me, while Cat Deeley can single-handedly make even the dullest SYTYCD results show entertaining.
The Social Networking
I gotta hand it to The Voice, they had the social networking down. The show was everywhere and my Twitter feed was continuously bogged down with tweets about the show, from the show, from the teams, from the judges… At times (especially Wednesday mornings, a few hours after the show had aired) it got completely out of hand and the only cure would have been to unfollow @NBCTheVoice, but I stuck with it, as is my duty as TV Editor.
The Facebook page also seemed very active and each week the contestants ranked at the top of the iTunes charts, so NBC was doing something right. (Great move, btw, to make downloads from iTunes count as votes. Very up to date!)
The only thing that went wrong regarding the social media was Alison Haislip and those moments in “The Social Media Room” on the actual broadcast show. Excruciatingly vacuous tweets were read aloud and the contestants were asked brain-fart questions of the highest order. If you want to highlight how great the interaction between your show and your Twitter followers is, then pick some of the more intelligent tweets to brag about, otherwise everyone looks stupid.
Still, points for effort.
So there you have it, my review of Season 1 of The Voice broken down point by point. I think the novelty will have worn off quite a bit when Season 2 rolls around and while I think the show is entertaining to watch (mostly for the banter among the judges, not even the singing), I don’t think it provides a great platform to launch a big career from. I think once the winner is announced, most people stop caring and just wait for the next season and new drama, because the audience treats the competition shows as mere entertainment for the moment. One day at the top of the iTunes charts with a cover of R.E.M.’s “Losing My Religion” does not a pop star make. Even American Idol has trouble launching big careers for its winners these days. So do I think a huge career (a la Kelly Clarkson) lies ahead for Javier Colon? No, but I still wish him all the best.
Final note: I have now unfollowed all The Voice-related Twitter accounts, except for Blake Shelton. Dude just cracks me up.
Need more TV coverage? Listen to a new “Television Collision: Podcast Extra", Episode 11 below.
Topics include thoughts on first two eps of True Blood Season 4, a look at USA shows Suits and Necessary Roughness and love for CT.
Note: as of writing this, I have not yet seen the True Blood Season 4 premiere, which is kind of the point to this article. I thought it would be interesting to see if and how the premiere could get me actually excited for this show again, because right now I couldn’t be less enthused.
My level of enthusiasm for True Blood has actually been declining with each successive season, reaching its lowest point in the time that passed between Season 3 ending and the Season 4 premiere coming up this Sunday (June 26th). Because as much as Season 3 was a chaotic mess when it was still on the air, it has aged in my head even worse. Part of me just wanted to forget Season 3 ever happened, because it tarnished so much of what I used to love about the show. Pretty much all I remember of Season 3 are the scene with Russell Edginton going on national TV and ripping that newscaster to shreds (the single greatest moment of the entire show), Eric “sacrificing” himself to get Russell killed at the very end of the season (what a cop-out though, because we know at least Eric will survive, there is no Game of Thrones level of danger on True Blood) and some dude named Alcide showing up, which apparently got a lot of ladies’ panties in a bunch, but not mine.
Maybe I remember a bit more about Season 3 as I think harder about it now, but none of what comes back makes me look any more fondly upon the show and I don’t know where I want to place the blame. See, True Blood is yet another show that is based on hugely successful fantasy books, so maybe the problem simply is that the story in the books gets successively more incoherent, soap opera-esque and overloaded with creatures left and right. The last point is not even my biggest problem though, because you can have all the supernatural creatures you can think of in the same universe (i.e. story), but you have to handle them better than what True Blood is displaying. (Again, I am not sure if I am blaming "True Blood the TV Show" or "True Blood the Books".)
The werewolves are a joke. Nothing more than a complete joke. They behave like a badly conceived 1980s motorcycle gang, but even the Sons of Anarchy are more believable bad-asses than these werewolves on True Blood in their S&M outfits, all hanging out at the same bar. It takes more than depicting a few gruesome acts they commit in order to paint a believable picture of a “species” and I don’t think True Blood is doing a good job with the werewolves. And that is leaving out the fact that I can’t even remember why in the world Alcide is helping Sookie anyway.
However, the job True Blood does with the werewolves is still better than the job the show is doing with either the shape shifters or the fairies and witches storyline. Besides, generally speaking, witches are just so lame. Magic of any kind is a very tricky thing to display in any franchise (TV, books, movies etc.), because so often it can come across as too much of a deus ex machina device, literally “magically” changing the outcome of a situation. So am I looking forward to Season 4 presenting us with even more witchcraft (as the previews are promising)? Absolutely not. You can bet that is about the worst thing I can imagine, since I already hated the shenanigans Maryann pulled in Season 2. I want True Blood to be more visceral than spells and magic. I want physical mayhem, vampires and humans and werewolves battling it out in a Battle of the Species. (Okay, I admit it, I have been watching too many episodes of the Real World/Road Rules Challenges. I would love to see the creatures of True Blood compete in that against each other.)
Some of the side characters have also been tragically handled thus far. Sam has been so disconnected from the rest of the characters that he might as well get his own spin-off show and Tara continues to make the worst decisions I have probably ever seen on television. I really hope she can stop being a glutton for punishment soon. And Jessica better kick her ass into gear too, because as much “fun” as it is watching her struggle with being a new vampire without an elder to show her the ropes (and it isn’t much fun at all), her actions have very little effect on the central conflicts of the show, which is one of the great shortcomings of True Blood. See, what makes a show like Game of Thrones so compelling is the fact that every action has a consequence somewhere else, so even if we are following these isolated cells of characters in different locales, what they do affects the other characters, miles and miles away. This doesn’t happen on True Blood enough, detracting from the sense that it might actually be going somewhere.
I have lost the sense of where True Blood is trying to take us. Is it trying to edge closer to a state of civil war between humanity and vampires or is it trying to descend into inner-supernatural-species politics? Instead of deepening any of the conflicts that already exist on the show, it just keeps piling on more supernatural species and I feel like it’s a cop-out. Never mind we have an awesome power struggle going on within the vampire camp, what with the Queen of Louisiana out in force and all that, let’s distract everyone from that by entering werewolves and witches into the ring, because we have no idea where we actually want to go with this vampire power struggle.
I have no problem with a universe that has diverse supernatural species as protagonists, but I feel like True Blood has been dishonest about their reveal. If it had been clear that all of these creatures exist in its universe from the start, then it wouldn’t feel so lame when one by one they come out of the woodwork at the most (in-)convenient times, when otherwise the storyline would get stuck. I realize it is rather ironic that I am complaining about True Blood being dishonest about what it is, when just a week ago I was praising Game of Thrones for it, but my point is this: when Game of Thrones threw away its disguise of being "The Ned Stark Story", it gave way to a much bigger, more compelling story that I am even more stoked to see play out.
When True Blood pulls another reveal and stops pretending to be "A Show About Vampires", all it then proceeds to say is that it’s "A Show About Vampires and Shape Shifters" and then "A Show About Vampires and Shape Shifters and Witches" and then "A Show About Vampires and Shape Shifters and Witches and Werewolves" and then "A Show About Vampires and Shape Shifters and Witches and Werewolves and Fairies"… do you see where I am going with this? The stories pretend to become bigger and better, but really they never get told, because as soon as it is about to get interesting, we just get another “species reveal”. And then the species don’t even interact with each other all that much. It’s like adding factors to an equation you never actually plan to solve, so the other side of that equal sign will stay eternally vacant and that bugs me.
The only way to still care about True Blood is to care about at least one of the central characters and since Sookie makes no sense to me whatsoever as a human (maybe she’ll make more sense to me as a fairy?), the only character I care about is Eric, because he is fun and bad at the same time and doesn’t pretend to be something he is not. The Season 4 teasers also promise us more Eric, so maybe there is hope for me yet.
I might be holding True Blood to standards it isn’t even attempting to fulfill, given that it is Summer TV and revels in its own campiness from time to time. However, you can be campy and still tell compelling stories (do I even need to bring up Buffy?), but Season 3 of True Blood was a far cry from compelling television, with the characters being scattered in locations no one could keep track of (who was in Mississippi, who was in Louisiana and who was in transit between the two?) and adding yet another character to the Bill-Sookie-Eric triangle, making it a love square between Bill, Sookie, Eric and Alcide. I am already sick of that back and forth game. And I am also not willing to give Summer TV a pass for not bringing a higher quality, just because it’s summer. That would be season-ism on my part and I won’t be accused of any –ism!
By the way, if most of the plot twists I have been complaining about here are taken from the book, then I want True Blood creator Alan Ball to take a few more steps away from the source material and think harder how he can improve upon it, because it is clearly not serving him well to stick too closely to it.
I haven’t read the books – I am TV Editor for a reason! – so I can’t judge on this front, but the story of "True Blood the TV Show" clearly needs to be streamlined a lot more, even if that means dropping entire characters that might appear in the books or going vastly off the course of the page.
Finally, I may just be suffering from Vampire Fatigue, because Season 2 of The Vampire Diaries has put me through the ringer of what I can tolerate in the realm of “bad supernatural storytelling” and I recently discovered that even though I once claimed otherwise, the creatures that actually freak me out the most are not vampires but zombies, because there is no way to manipulate zombies or talk sense into them or negotiate with them or any of that. Way scarier than vampires in my book. But hey, with True Blood’s track record, you can’t count out the possibility of zombies showing up in that show, so maybe it can scare me again!
With all this said, let’s see if the Season 4 premiere can get me excited about True Blood again. I will let you know, so watch this space.
Need more TV coverage? Listen to a new “Television Collision: Podcast Extra", Episode 10 below.
Topics include Falling Skies, passionate responses to The Challenge: Rivals and SYTYCD, the gender-specific humor (?) of Wilfred and much more!
And so it has happened. The Season One finale of Game of Thrones has aired and the long wait for more has begun. It’ll be about a year and I am sure I will come back to these thoughts I am putting down right now just before Season Two starts airing to remind myself what I thought immediately after first seeing the show. Because we all know that any amount of time can alter our perception of pop-culture products, hence we talk about them “aging well” – or not.
So what are my thoughts on the first season of a show that has been the talk of the (internet) town since weeks before it even premiered? To be honest, it is a little hard to dissect all the voices in my head, all the opinions I have heard and all the fangirl inklings lurking inside me. The downside of not doing in-depth, weekly reviews of each individual episode will probably be resulting in this attempt at summarizing my thoughts on Season One turning out to be rather epic in length, but let me give it a go anyway.
(For your convenience, I have structured my thoughts with sub-headlines.)
The TV Show vs. The Books
I still haven’t read a word of the books of the A Song of Ice and Fire series and right now I don’t think I want to, although that is not to say the long wait for more stories with Westeros’ characters will not wear me down over the next months and I’ll cave and pick up the books. But here’s why I don’t want to: I don’t think there is much value that can be derived from the debate about the difference between the book and the TV show. Both are designed for a specific medium and a specific audience or mode of consumption at least, hence even though the books and the show tell roughly the same story involving the same characters, they both need to do so in their own way. I have said this before in my podcast a few weeks back, but I truly do believe it is best to separate these two “realms” of the stories – if you will – in your head.
For the producers of the TV show it is advantageous, to say the least, to have a road map in the books, to know where the story is headed (even though the very end is still shrouded in mystery as George R.R. Martin has only finished Book Five of seven). This knowledge of the direction the story takes in the books makes it a lot easier to give the TV show an urgency and a cohesion that is often lacking from other shows, where the creators are making it up as they go along. Or even if they do have an idea of the “bigger picture”, they are at least filling in gaps in the middle as they come across them, always bearing the danger of contradicting themselves or drawing something out beyond audience’s patience (see How I Met Your Mother and the later seasons of Lost).
So the fact that the first season of Game of Thrones is one of the best first seasons of a TV show in years largely stems from the fact that producers David Benioff and D.B. Weiss had such rich source material to draw from, which was already ahead of them in the progression of the story. From this they could conjure a confident vision of what they wanted their show to look like and which elements of the story to stress and for all intents and purposes they did a great job.
As someone who, as I’ve said, hasn’t read the books, at the end of Season One of Game of Thrones I believe I have a grasp on the characters that were included, on their back stories, their allegiances and their relationships. Yes, I didn’t think I would be able to, but I can tell all the Houses apart, I can name the members of each family, I can even tell you why the Mad King was murdered and by whom and who else was involved in the conspiracy. Can I do this because I am an especially attentive viewer of television and hence other people, who weren’t paying as close attention, can’t (like I have been hearing some people are still confused)? Maybe. But to be fair, it was made clear in Episode One that this show was going to be dense and tight-packed and that often vital information was passed between the lines. This is by no means exceptional for an HBO show, but I fear network and cable television of a certain kind has many brains of TV viewers in a permanent state of dullness and stupor.
This is not Game of Thrones' fault. If you go back over the episodes on your DVR, you will notice that all information you need to have is mentioned and the smallest gestures can tell you legends about a character. There is also a surprising amount of foreshadowing and the lingering shots of dragon eggs aren’t even what I am talking about.
(I suspect there is even more foreshadowing you can only get when you have read the books.)
The fact that the books are out there is also an advantage to fans of the show though, because nothing is easier than googling the fate of Khal Drogo and find out whether the sun will ever rise in the West and bring him back to Daenerys. We can’t know what George R.R. Martin has planned for the concluding two books he has yet to write, so none of the characters’ stories are definite yet. And we also have no guarantee that the TV show will follow the course exactly. Maybe there will be some characters that won’t die in the screen version, or die later, differently, at someone else’s hands, because another minor character had to be left out. The possibilities are endless and although I get the sense that Benioff and Weiss are both fans of the books and will therefore serve their source material for the show with respect, they aren’t obliged to follow the written word to the letter.
It’s a heinous comparison and one I hate to drag up, but I simply lack fantasy experience to come up with another comparison on the fly, but think of The Lord of the Rings: it is unarguable that Peter Jackson is the biggest fan of those books on this planet. And he treated his source material with all the respect it deserves, but he still made changes. He cut the character of Tom Bombadil and those who never read the books (are there still people out there who haven’t?), that didn’t matter one bit. The story in the movie trilogy was perfectly coherent and compelling without Tom Bombadil. (Granted, I don’t think fans of the books were ever fans of Tom Bombadil either, he was rather tiresome, but that’s beside the point). Jackson also moved the appearance of the giant spider that stings Frodo from the second book into the third movie, because he needed more action on the Frodo and Sam front for that third installment. And it worked.
So I guess I am saying to fans of the book: give Benioff and Weiss a bit of leeway and trust them. They haven’t disappointed you so far, right?
But this was not the point I wanted to make. Although one more thought on that whole “converting books into a TV show” dilemma: what if George R.R. Martin takes another five years to finish Book Six and then another five to finish Book Seven? The TV show will have long caught up with him then. What are they going to do? Lap him?
The Accomplishments of the TV Show
My point was: Season One of Game of Thrones was one of the best first seasons of any TV show ever. It hit the ground running and it never let up. At the same time though, after viewing the finale, there is the definite sense that we aren’t in fact watching the story we thought we were watching at all, which is a big reason why the non-book-savvy TV audience was so outraged at the end of episode 9, when Ned Stark was beheaded. In the traditional world of TV, viewers are accustomed to the fact that shows are upfront about what they are about, they don’t pretend and lie to us and viewers felt that Game of Thrones had lied to them. They thought they were watching the story of an undoubtedly good-hearted, if painfully naïve, honorable man suffering through a baffling amount of injustices, immorality and intrigue only to ultimately (maybe after ten seasons), put on his red cape, er… climb the throne, I mean.
This was not the story Game of Thrones was telling. This was not the story the books of the A Song of Ice and Fire series were telling either. Ned’s death scene in the books, I am told, came as just as much of a shock. But maybe we were being even more naïve than Ned to believe he could ever make it out alive. Think about it.
A side of me though can relate to the outrage and the anger that results from having your heart broken like that by a TV show. I confessed a few weeks ago my infatuation with Sean Bean. My binge of All Things Bean still hasn’t ended, every day I watch a film or an episode of a TV show he starred in. But in that same confession I also theorized that Sean Bean is too fine an actor for his own good, which is why he ends up being killed all the time.
In an interview with HBO, D.B. Weiss said: “Sean Bean is one of the few people I’ve ever seen who can convey gravitas with the back of his head.”
He was talking, of course, about that emotionally gruesome shot of Ned’s bare neck, just as it was about to be sliced through WITH HIS OWN DAMN SWORD! (You see, I am outraged too!)
Once again Sean Bean had to provide that air of melancholic poetry and play a character who had to be so memorable that his spirit would echo on through the rest of the story still to come. That outrage upon his death many were feeling is precisely the kind of emotion that must be going on inside every single member of the Stark family upon these events. So what better way to engage an audience than to have one of the most beloved actors in all of geekdom – who also brings legions of female fans with him, always a plus for any production – play the one guy you want to see win and then kill him off? You cannot make the sense of loss more literal and more visceral for a TV audience. It was a genius move to cast a guy with a big name like Sean Bean and cradle uninitiated TV viewers in the false security we have acquired from years and years of watching shows where the central character, the Big Name Actor, was always, always safe, hence any real sense of danger and menace was removed a priori.
Seldom do the external factors and their external results sync so beautifully with the internal factors and internal results on TV shows as they did here. The result was glorious, exciting TV that finally engaged us on levels we had forgotten we could be engaged on with a TV show.
The Emotional (Non-)Journey
Or did it? Cory Barker of the excellent TV Surveillance site/blog recently penned a column entitled: “Kingdom of Disconnect: On Ambivalence with Game of Thrones”, in which he admits that his main (and often only) reaction to each new episode or twist of the show is merely “Cool!” On an emotional level, he doesn’t feel engaged by the show (he explains this far more eloquently than I can summarize here) and to a certain degree I can understand that.
As much as Game of Thrones is about Big Stories, as in words like honor, courage, loyalty and so on are thrown around ad infinitum, the show (and the books?) doesn’t trade in tear-jerking. It trades in pathos, no doubt, although not the sappy, “I am going to give a ten minute speech about how much I love you” pathos, but the pathos that is at work every time any nation goes to war, the pathos soldiers need to believe in when they embark on a mission, the pathos that is the very foundation of any story of the magnitude the great fantasy writers are telling. You have to believe in any and/or all of the Big Concepts, like honor, to follow along on the journey. If you don’t believe, for example, that a son should stand for his father’s actions (and crimes), then the disconnect with a story that is based on such principles is immediate and rather deep.
So there are parts of the story I feel a disconnect with too. I don’t believe in “an eye for an eye”, so while my immediate gut reaction upon Ned’s death also may have been “Let’s avenge him and have Joffrey’s head and Cersei’s too, while we’re at it”, about five minutes later my head would have started to kick into gear and I would argue more along the lines of “Let’s not stoop to their level, let’s be smart about this and outwit them instead of just marching our soldiers to their own deaths”.
Which characters or storylines a viewer relates to is inseparably connected to what life experiences they bring to the table and there is only so much work the writers of a TV show can do to try and persuade you to relate to a character that may not immediately draw your affection. If writers try too hard, you end up with the mess that was Thirteen’s storyline on House, and we wouldn’t want anything like that tarnishing something as awesome as Game of Thrones, right?
The only other option then is to accept that there are characters you won’t relate to, even though you can tell you are supposed to or are at least offered the opportunity to do so. For example: I know many have taken a liking to Peter Dinklage’s Tyrion Lannister for his wits, his humor and the fact that he has many obstacles to overcome. We always like to root for the underdog, right, even if he is a Lannister? Personally, I don’t care for him. While I may appreciate the, admittedly, wise advice Tyrion once gave to Jon Snow (“Wear the insult as your armor!”), the mere fact that he is disrespected by his family is not enough to enamor him to me. I don’t immediately always root for the underdog or the one with the sad history (and what his brother Jamie did to Tyrion regarding his first love was cruel and sad). I root for the people who step up, who take action, who earn my respect not by merely passively suffering a terrible and cruel fate but by taking an active role in their lives in spite of it all. Like Daenerys.
Here is a young woman (in the books she is only 13!), who could have submitted to her fate of being married off to a brutish warlord by her conniving brother and lived out her days as a shell of a human being. Instead, she seized the few chances that were presented to her, embraced her opportunities, while trying to keep some sense of what is right and wrong. She knew her path to seizing the Iron Throne again would be laced with blood, but that is a consequence she accepted. And when she was betrayed by the witch and Drogo, the last person in the world whom she truly loved, was taken from her, she didn’t surrender to her fate either, she burnt the place down and emerged a Dragon Queen, for crying out loud! This is what I am talking about!
There is hope for Tyrion in my book yet, because he will go to King’s Landing and serve as the King’s Hand, which means he has a shot at proving that he is “better” at ruling than his sister Cersei or his nephew Joffrey is. Although what “better” means in the universe of this show is a topic to debate in and of itself. Are we talking morals or effectiveness? And whose side are we on while we argue?
While it is safe to say that the show (and the books?) wants us to side with the Starks for now (although there are always those who enjoy a good villain more and hence root for the Lannisters, you twisted souls, you!), there aren’t any simple answers to questions of morality on Game of Thrones and this is the aspect of the show I revel in the most.
Morality and Choosing Your Allegiance
Too often are the pop-culture products we consume laden with moral messages and neatly bow-tied at their resolution. Too seldom are the actions by our central heroes questioned for morality (mostly this is avoided by painting the evil enemies as just that: evil through and through, hence we have no qualms about seeing Orcs die in Lord of the Rings). Though I don’t believe the claim that “There are no purely evil creatures in ASoIF, there are always shades of gray” – because what then, I pray ask, are the White Walkers? – the actions of the human characters are never portrayed as squarely right or wrong either way. Robb Stark has as many troubles with knowing he sent a few hundred of his soldiers to die as Cersei Lannister feels uneasy upon seeing her son Joffrey take to his newly gained power like a wanderer of the desert takes to water. So while as a viewer we must choose where our allegiances lie (as much as the characters must, see Jon Snow), we are also always made aware that neither choice will put us firmly in the “morally right” column. The Starks treat their prisoner Jamie Lannister no better than the Lannisters treated their prisoner Ned Stark and in the emerging war I am sure soldiers on both sides will be merciless in their killing. Pride goes before a fall. Remember that while you choose your side.
There are more than two sides you can choose though. Right now the primary fight seems to be between the Starks and the Lannisters (although the Baratheon’s have taken up arms as well, supposedly, but we haven’t seen any of that), but they are all blissfully unaware that Daenerys and her dragon babies are coming for them. When two fight, the third rejoices? Upon the heels of the tragic death of Ned Stark that already left us raw and beaten, in the Season One finale we also had to deal with the death of Khal Drogo, the fiercest warrior in all the lands cut down by a “scratch” on his chest and a wicked witch. He deserved better. And because I was spoiled about Ned’s death weeks before it happened on screen (the internet provides plenty of traps, even if you try to avoid spoilers), I had no idea we were going to lose Drogo too and it gutted me. To lose my two favorite characters on the show within a week’s time was truly one of the more traumatizing TV experiences of my life.
What Story Are We Watching?
The last two episodes of the season linked together beautifully though, not only because there was no time gap between Episode 9’s end and 10’s beginning (and can I say the shot of that blood-drenched sword just made me weep all over again? It was almost more emotional than that neck shot in Ep 9). In many ways Episode 9, “Baelor”, was the true season finale, the sword at the end cutting not only through Ned’s neck but making a clear cut in the story as well. Episode 10, “Fire and Blood”, was then more about setting up what is to come, showing how all the wheels are set in motion now, unstoppable, and things will have to play themselves out. And while we are all immersed in the game of thrones, the Brothers of the Night’s Watch already know where the real future war will lie and while this was merely hinted at in previous episodes, in this finale Jeor Mormont, the Lord Commander, spelled it out for us: “When dead men and worse come hunting for us in the night, do you think it matters who sits on the Iron Throne?”
That’s the story we are really watching, isn’t it? All of this other stuff is background information we will need once things come down to the wire and all of Westeros must unite to survive. Who will be “the bigger man” then, putting aside past injustices and offenses and entering into an allegiance with the hated enemy? Much like the characters on the show, who have lived in a long summer and in a world where magic has almost passed into legend, the TV viewers were also quick to dismiss the hints at something bigger lurking in the background and got consumed by the events within the Seven Kingdoms, evidenced by the outrage, the tears, the fervent debates and exchanges about every single episode of this first season of Game of Thrones. Again the external and the internal converge beautifully here, the viewers are just as blind to the bigger picture as the characters for a long time. I can only say it again: this is how truly great television should work.
Looking Ahead to Season Two
Going into Season 2 at least the TV audience won’t be this blind anymore. Now we know what kind of a story we are watching and things are going to get a lot worse before they ever get better. If they ever get better, that is. With the amount of plot twists George R.R. Martin has included in his story that are irreverent to the emotional destruction they may cause, there is no telling how everything will draw to a close. There truly are no guarantees for a happily ever after in the universe of Game of Thrones and that is what’s exciting about it.
The energy of Season 2 will be different, because beloved characters will be missing (and missed), but scores of new ones will be introduced and again we will have to make up our minds whether we like them, trust them, hate them or love them. Plus, there will be dragons!
I truly don’t know what to expect from Season Two and if Season One has taught me anything, it’s best not to expect anything anyway, because the opposite will happen. That goes for the plot and storylines at least.
Visually there are some things I would like to see happen. The sets and costumes are already perfect, I have no quarrels with that part of the show, but I want the show to realize that precisely because it is a visual medium, it isn’t as limited to linear storytelling and representation as a book may be. It doesn’t always have to be as a straightforward as Season One was for a large part of its run. This is not reality TV, where the camera crew is reduced to following the main protagonists and then edit together the “story worth telling” from gathered raw footage. If Game of Thrones can become just a little bit more inventive in its cinematography, particularly as magic creeps back into its world, then there will truly be very few chinks left in the show’s armor.
I also hope creators Benioff and Weiss remain as confident and in charge of their vision as they have been so far and listen to their own inner compass, because it has served them well up to this point. By this I mean that they have danced well on the thin red line between being faithful to their source material without being slaves to it. So I wouldn’t blame them at all if they decided that Season Two of Game of Thrones (the title will remain unchanged, btw) will not cover the entirety of the second book of the series, “A Clash of Kings”, which is – again, I am told – packed full of action, diverging storylines and complicated turns of events. HBO has ordered a conservative 10 episodes again for Season Two and rather than leaving out too much detail and lumping together clunky exposition scenes (which the first season only barely avoided doing too many of already), I would want to see the show’s second season take as much time as it needs to set up the moments of awe, shock and emotional pay-off that make watching it such a satisfying experience.
Fans of the books would surely agree with me on this, because they of all people have the most interest in seeing their beloved stories come to life in a way that doesn’t feel rushed or forced. And I have to take this time to commend the legions of ASoIF fans, for being so gracious and so devoted to the brilliance of the story that they kept mum as much as they could and didn’t go blabbing their mouths and spoiling the TV show for us. This, to me, speaks volumes of the respect they have for what George R.R. Martin has created. They let us go on the journey they first embarked on back when they took up the first book and when the big story twists happened, they were there to comfort us TV viewers and shared their own stories of how they first came upon these twists.
To all those TV viewers who may disagree with my wish for a Season Two that works with whatever pacing suits the show I say: get over your need for instant gratification (there are plenty of other shows that cater to this need anyway) and start opening yourself up for a creative vision that extends beyond the limits of how many episodes are ordered from the higher-ups.
I can’t offer any real conclusion to this re-view (and it’s really more a “re-view” than a “review”) at this point, because I am not done processing Season One of Game of Thrones. As much as I am speculating in my head about what will come next, I am also thinking back over my favorite moments, over the journeys some characters have taken and how virtually irrelevant the genre of Game of Thrones has become as its first season displayed how character exposition and engaging audiences should be done where other shows failed spectacularly this TV season (of 46 new shows that premiered, 35 were canceled again).
Perhaps this is the greatest compliment I can pay the show, too. The fact that it keeps running around in my head and that I can’t seem to stop talking or raving about it. Game of Thrones provided that push forward the world of TV needed. Too many other shows lately tried to copy something that came before, or cash in on an established concept or merely treaded familiar ground while pretending to “think outside the box”. None of that necessarily leads to bad television, it just leads to predictable television that lures viewers further into the lull and stupor I previously mentioned.
Game of Thrones was television that jolted viewers awake with every single twist and turn of the story and that didn’t shy away from doing the outrageous, from going where most – if not all – other television shows are afraid to go. Killing off not one, not two, but three characters the show had previously spent a copious amount of time on (Viserys, Ned and Drogo) and who viewers were expecting to stick around for a while, is nothing short of exceptional in the world of TV these days. On a different network or in other people’s hands, these blows may have been cushioned more or even been cut entirely, but luckily HBO proved that it does still have some cojones after all (which I doubted for a while there).
This confidence and boldness will pay off for all involved, I am sure, as the buzz around this show will only built over the year to come. The many fans the show already has will make sure all their friends who missed it the first time round will catch up before Season Two premieres. By that time, many will also have picked up the books, I suspect, so a far more knowledgeable audience will be tuning in. (I remain undecided whether or not this assumption should play into how Benioff and Weiss plan Season Two. Should they assume we all know nothing or should they assume we all know everything?)
Regardless of whether or not Game of Thrones’ ballsy narrative and excellent performances are mirrored in award show success (I am mad as hell the nomination period for the Television Critics Association Awards ran out before Sean Bean’s death scene hit screens, otherwise some critics may have nominated him over Peter Dinklage, since Dinklage will be back and hence get another shot at the awards next year), I would mark the show’s first season as a creative success entirely. Again, keep in mind that I am talking about the show on its own, not the transition from book to screen and resulting changes.
As a television show Game of Thrones gave me everything I could ever hope for or dream of and I sincerely wish some other showrunners take note and learn from all the things Game of Thrones is doing right where they are going wrong.
Until Spring 2012 I am hence now left to keep my love for this show alive by interacting with all its characters on Twitter, which is outrageously fun and I can only recommend it. My gratitude and thanks to the committed individuals who take time out of their day to maintain these Twitter feeds, engage with other Tweeters and provide hilarious and insightful banter amongst each other as well.
One more thing: As we enter summer, remember, “Winter is coming…”
Need more TV coverage? Listen to a new “Television Collision: Podcast Extra", Episode 9 below.
Topics include the rage-inducing finale of The Killing, season premieres of Hawthorne and Luther and thoughts on SYTYCD.
If you’re a freelance TV columnist like me, nothing disrupts your life more than traveling, vacationing and attending family functions. You can’t keep up with your viewing schedule, you can’t keep up with your Twitter feed, you can’t sit down and write in your usual time slot and are destined to play catch-up for about a week after your return. This is precisely what happened to me as it was time for me to attend another wedding this Pentecost weekend. On the long drive to and from the festivities I thought about how real life weddings are always so different than the weddings we see on TV. There is less drama on the one hand (I have yet to attend a wedding at which the groom contemplates taking off five minutes before the ceremony) and more drama on the other hand (because you are witnessing actual people you care about confess their love, albeit usually in very short speeches).
Nevertheless, we all love us our TV weddings, the laughs, the drama, the tears, the sappy speeches and the big white dresses. So in no particular order, here are some of the TV weddings that were so memorable to me I could recount them on a drive through the countryside.
Donna & David, Beverly Hills, 90210
As a teenager I was obsessed with Beverly Hills, 90210. But when the gang left high school and Brenda moved to London, I didn’t watch as religiously as I used to anymore. Nevertheless, when it came time for the supersized series finale, in which David and Donna would finally get their happy end – after being rudely interrupted on their path to bliss by a very annoying Tiffani-Amber Thiessen – I had to tune in and watch the glory.
It was pompous, it was cheesy, but it was awesome. When you had been there from the beginning, when David was nothing more than a geeky nerd, who always wanted to fit in with the group, but most of them wouldn’t even give him the time of day – most notably Donna – and to then see what he had become, a good-looking, committed partner to a sometimes more than tedious woman like Donna with all her family hang-ups, it was quite heartwarming to hear him say how he couldn’t even remember a time, when he had not been in love with Donna.
I was especially happy about Dylan (Luke Perry) returning for the big finale, whose own wedding and subsequent loss of his wife in a drive-by shooting the next day, had broken my heart a few years prior. Yes, the Donna and David wedding was quite the happening and a perfect end to a show that defined an era.
Oh, just watch the sob fest for yourselves.
Monica & Chandler, Friends
When thinking back to Friends a lot of people forget how long it actually took for Monica and Chandler to 1) become a couple and 2) actually get married. As soon as they got together, they were such a unifying center for the show that many people forgot there was a time when these two were both single and dating, with more (Monica dated Richard, i.e. Tom Selleck for almost two seasons) or less success (Chandler dated Kathy for six episodes and Janice on and off for an episode each season).
It wasn’t until the Season 4 finale that Chandler and Monica hooked up in London (at Ross’ disaster of a wedding to British Bitch Emily), it wasn’t until the middle of Season 5 that everyone found out about them being a couple and it took until the Season 7 finale until we finally got to see Monica and Chandler walk down the aisle.
Of course Chandler had the mandatory pre-wedding freak out, which was to be expected from a guy whose fear of commitment was as established as Ross’ love for divorce. But this old storyline was given a nice twist, because it turned out Chandler wasn’t really freaking out about the wedding, he thought Monica was pregnant (as did everybody else, thanks to annoying Rachel dumping her positive test in Monica’s trash) and he was just worried about becoming a dad. But even that couldn’t stop him from marrying the woman he loved.
Joey was officiating the wedding, and even though I had been looking forward to him wearing “multi-colored robes”, as he had promised a few episodes prior, he showed up in a blood-stained costume from a WWII movie he was shooting at the time and forgot half his lines in the wedding, such as asking for the rings.
Yes, it was a hilarious wedding and heartwarming at the same time, although I think I might like the proposal even more than the actual wedding, because Chandler is one of my all-time favorite TV characters anyway, a better, warmer heart you could not find and it shows so much during the proposal.
So, please enjoy Monica trying to propose to Chandler and understand why there is a reason that girls don’t do that.
Lily & Marshall, How I Met Your Mother
Similar to Friends, this show also started out with the central couple not married, although they had been a couple forever. At the end of Season 1 Lily and Marshall took a short break from their relationship, but it only served to delay the inevitable wedding for another season, and by the second season finale, they got hitched.
Much like the hundred of sitcom weddings before HIMYM, Lily and Marshall’s wedding seemed destined to be a disaster, from Marshall shaving his head in a panic to Lily’s ex-boyfriend Scooter showing up, one obstacle followed another until we finally got the perfect wedding before the wedding. Barney recently got licensed to marry people (are we stealing from Friends here? The whole show is, so yes) and so he marries Lily and Marshall in the park before the actual huge ceremony, just like they always wanted, in the circle of only their closest friends. That way, the big hoopla afterwards is just for fun and all the pressure is off.
If only we all had friends like that!
Kevin & Scotty, Brothers & Sisters
I had long given up Brothers & Sisters, it got too soapy and I just can’t stand Calista Flockhart, but I tuned in for the one wedding I always wanted to see on that show and I wasn’t disappointed. Again, we didn’t have a minister officiate (are we sensing a theme here?), but it was Kevin’s sister Kitty who married her brother Kevin off to a wonderful man, who had stood by him through a lot of testing times.
I always liked how normal and unaffected the gay relationship on Brothers & Sisters was handled and the wedding was no exception, groundbreaking in its simplicity while dealing with such a hot-button topic.
Every June I face the same problem: it’s time to change gears from “regular” TV to summer programming and every year this transition gives me trouble. Not only does my viewing schedule thin out in quantity (I refuse to watch reality programming, so I am left with only the cable shows), but it also feels a lot lighter in impact and quality. Every year I struggle to scale back the expectations I have of TV when the summer season rolls around.
Summer shows as a whole have to be approached with a different attitude, one of optimism, carefree-ness and possibly a light buzz from drinking one too many cocktails by the pool.
The shows that populate our televisions in the hot months don’t trade in gravitas. The likes of Leverage, Burn Notice, Royal Pains, The Glades etc. are meant to be breezy, light, fluffy, colorful popcorn TV, which is a taste I am never particularly looking forward to after the hefty meals of steak, vegetables and potatoes the regular season has served, but eventually I ease back into enjoying the sweet nothings flickering across my screen mid-year.