Wednesday, April 27, 2011

TV Review: Game of Thrones (2011-????)

HBO is running a new series called Game of Thrones. Generally, I’m a sucker for fantasy stories and I’ve liked much of what HBO/Showtime have produced in the past decade. But this one leaves me cold so far. I’ll give it a couple more weeks, but right now I’m finding it hard to care.

“A Game of Thrones” is the first book in an epic fantasy series called “A Song of Ice and Fire.” This series is written by George R.R. Martin. “Thrones” was first published in August 1996, won lots of awards in 1997, and has since been turned into several games. In January 2011, after HBO announced it would be showing this series, the book finally hit the New York Times bestseller list.

The series stars Sean Bean and a host of other people who have all been involved in one fantasy show or another, and apparently tracks the book fairly closely. . . I haven’t read the book but the author says it tracks. The series runs 10 episodes. There is no word yet on a second season, though the critics are raving about the series. I’m not.

One of the producers has jokingly described the series as “The Sopranos in Middle Earth,” and that’s a good place to start with my issues with the show. For starters, comparing this to Middle Earth is like comparing Chucky Cheese to Disney. Middle Earth is a rich environment with lush forests, impossibly green fields, incredible mountains, visually stunning cities, elaborate costumes, a universe of interesting creatures, and cool magic. Thrones is like one of those “historically accurate” fantasy stories. . . lots of wood, furs and torches, brooding ‘til ye can’t brood nay more, and nary a magical creature in sight. In fact, I put “historically accurate” in quotes because people tend to mistake the ruins of castles today for an accurate assessment of how people lived back then, and they never realize that castles actually contained plush furniture, carpets, stained glass and were often painted. . . things that are all missing in Thrones.

The lack of supernatural creatures also makes the story feel cheap and hollow. There are hints of supernatural creatures, but that’s all they’ve given and the series pretty clearly intends to use them sparingly if at all. Because of this, Thrones loses its “fantasy” feel and comes across more like a highly inaccurate retelling of Medieval English history.

Thrones is nothing like The Sopranos either, and that’s the real problem. The Sopranos was a unique, fascinating and un-clichéd look into the normally highly-clichéd world of mobsters. The juxtaposition of their calm daily lives and average personal problems against the sudden violence of their profession, made the show emotionally stunning. And the characters you wanted to like, but who kept making stupid mistakes all the fricken time, really pulled you in. Thus, you cared about these people because you wanted then to succeed, but you also got these periodic jarring reminders they were monsters. You get nothing like that in Thrones.

In Thrones, the BIG problem is a lack of focus. There are too many “main” characters and none of them are really main characters. They are all doing too many things that are broadly too similar to make their individual stories very interesting. The director also mistakes boring with dramatic. We would watch Tony Soprano stare at a door for five minutes because we were pretty sure something HUGE was about to happen and because we were trying to crawl into his head. None of the Thrones characters has risen above cliché enough for us to care what they are thinking. And frankly, it’s not even easy to figure out who is who yet because there has been too much information presented too fast. You just can’t dump the history of three or four families, two or three kingdoms, and several sets of old friends on an audience all at once. Then you add in long, dull, “meaningful” scenes involving people you don’t know and couldn’t care less about and the pull of the remote becomes very strong.

Moreover, the writer seems to have problems with anachronisms. For example, about half of what these people talk about is sex, which is odd for a fantasy story and seems like the author is trying too hard to find filler. Further, for reasons unknown, the writer has decided to occasionally toss in a couple modern swear words. It’s not like the anachronistic Tourettes Special that was Deadwood, but it’s enough to keep knocking me out of the story.

Romeo: “Hark, what light through yonder window breaks? Yo, b*tch! It's me!”

King Arthur: “Lancelot, Quest forth and find me the Holy Grail that we may show it to our peasantry, the dirty f*ckers.”
Nope, doesn’t work.

I’ll give this a couple more weeks, but I’m not hopeful. How about you?

22 comments:

rlaWTX said...

I read the book - back before it became a show - and next 2 sequels. But then I got bogged down in the massiveness of the books. I honestly don't even remember the storyline.

AndrewPrice said...

rlaWTX, My father says the same thing. He says he read it, but can't remember it at this point. He said he liked the books though, but he isn't thrilled with the television version.

I haven't read the books and I'm finding very dull to slog through the episodes waiting for all the dozens of little pieces to come together to give the story some meaning.

LawHawkRFD said...

I saw the first episode. Lavish, good production values, and not a lot more. I'll probably wait for the DVD so I can keep track of the characters, plots and subplots better. I got lost in the first episode. Wait, who? Did what? Didn't TIVO it, so I couldn't go back to figure it out.

AndrewPrice said...

Lawhawk, That's how I spent the first episode, trying to figure out what the heck was going on and who they were talking about. This is one of those shows were the characters have first names, family names, and titles and people will use them without any attempt at clarity. So it was very hard to follow. It got easier by the second episode, but they haven't give us much to care about yet.

(FYI, speaking of caring, the insanely liberal Slate magazine actually calls the show "racist", because the barbarians are dark skinned and rapists.)

DUQ said...

I watched the first two and it didn't seem to me that it was all that better than what you can catch on the SyFy Channel when they do their dragon days.

AndrewPrice said...

DUQ, So far, it hasn't really offered much more than that.

By the way, I refuse to called them "Syfy." That's so stupid. I still call them Sci-Fi.

T_Rav said...

Andrew, I haven't really bothered to watch this, because for some reason it struck me as a kind of video-game adaptation. But I know a couple of people who are watching, and while they have a somewhat better opinion of it than you, they're certainly not blown away.

Incidentally, one good new Sunday night show is AMC's "The Killing." This week's wasn't great, but overall it's been much better than your average crime show.

AndrewPrice said...

T_Rav, Videogamey would probably have been a step up. Instead, it's highly "dramatic" but without the drama.

I know people really like the books and I haven't read them, so maybe it will get better or maybe the series just isn't living up the books, but I'm seriously coming to the end on this one.

CrispyRice said...

I haven't seen it, but it looks interesting. I'll keep an eye for it. :)

AndrewPrice said...

Hopefully you'll like it. Let us know! :-)

Ed said...

Andrew, I was looking forward to this and then I saw the first episode and it was horrible. I think you've accurately described how I felt watching it.

AndrewPrice said...

Thanks Ed. I was looking forward to it as well because I've really liked so much of what HBO and Showtime have done in the past 10 years. I figured this would be good. Sadly, so far at least, it's turning out to be dull. Hopefully, that will change soon.

Ed said...

Andrew, It would be nice, but it will do it without me. I'm done until someone tells me it really got good, and then I'll rent it.

Ed said...

T_Rav, What's "The Killing?" I haven't heard anything about it?

AndrewPrice said...

Ed, I'll hold out a little longer, but I'm already finding myself playing with my computer during the show. That's usually a bad sign.

AndrewPrice said...

Ed, Sorry, I know little about it as I haven't seen it. I've seen the ads for it, but that's about it. I take it, it's a small town murder scenario.

Doc Whoa said...

I think it's ok, but that's about it. I'm not hearing any buzz either, so I think it's probably toast.

AndrewPrice said...

Doc, I don't hear much buzz since the first week, but that's not unusual.

StanH said...

Agreed on “Game of Thrones,” it’s okay. I like sex as much as the next guy, but they seem to be gratuitous, as you say for a plot filler.

“The Killing,” takes place in Seattle, with a reluctant homicide detective, a watchable show, not great but good. It’[s better than GOTs, so far.

AndrewPrice said...

Stan, LOL! I agree, I've got nothing against sex, but it seems pretty gratuitous here.

Thanks for the info on "The Killing." I haven't seen it, but I've seen ads for it. It seems kind of like a "Twins Peaks" only more serious.

StanH said...

“Twin Peaks” could be bizarre but fun, I liked the show, “The Killing” is played straight. To me it’s like “24” each episode is a day as opposed to hours, and they lead you to certain expectations as to who-dunnit. So far they’ve been able to twist the story line where it’s not to terribly cliché, and intriguing enough to want to know the rest of the story.

AndrewPrice said...

Stan, Thanks! That's good to know. I think I'll check it out because it sounds interesting. I was under the impression it was either like a "Twin Peaks" (which I liked, but don't know that I want to see remade) or just a straight up cop/killer drama. Neither of those interested me. But this sounds kind of intriguing.

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