Game of Thrones – Season 2

Sunday the second season of Game of Thrones ended.  Unlike last season, I’m not sure this one will earn as many rewards.

Most of the strengths were still present.  Strong acting from the principals including the child actors.  Good writing.  Excellent sets, dressing and costuming.  And keeping fairly close to the source material.

The flaws were reduced.  Each character was given more time in the spotlight.  There were fewer sexposition (plot exposition during explicit sex scenes) – although they was still some.

But the second series introduced new flaws.  Many are in the source material as well.

The first series had an ensemble cast, but a strong focus on Ned Stark.  The second lacks that focal point.  The plot also had a central through line of the events surrounding Ned in King’s Landing.  The second is a jumble of scenes spread throughout the Seven Kingdoms and beyond.  Finally, the book and series suffers from middle act syndrome – the setup was done in series 1, but series 2 offers only complications, but little resolution.

In adapting the material it is almost impossible to avoid.  Both the book and the series try and avoid this by providing mostly complete character arcs.  Tyrion’s time as Hand of the King.  Danaerys’ time in Qarth.  Theon’s time as Prince of Winterfell.  But this doesn’t work for all the characters.  Arya and Sansa and Jon have their arcs stop in mid-point.  Catelyn lacks an arc and acts mostly in service to the plot.

The result is that many episodes ended up being just a jumble of scenes.  Each scene is quite good on its own merits, but the whole is fractured.

The other force balancing this is the build up to the battle of Blackwater at King’s Landing.  The books do a better job building the fear and tension in the city leading up to the siege.  Both have a satisfying climax in this battle.  But it is apparent in the tv show that this is only an important event to a limited number of characters.

Some of the flaws are the tv shows alone.  In simplifying the plot and cast list for tv some of the nuance is lost.  Every plot line has a reduced set of supporting characters.  Some of the complications were removed or modified to fit the running time of TV or reduce the need for exposition.  Often the result was fine.  Sometimes it made it not quite as compelling.  Sometimes it made it confusing.  But this simplification was never an improvement over the original.

At the end of the series the characters are generally in the same place as at the end of the second book.

Peter Dinklage, playing Tyrion Lanister, remains the strongest actor in the series.  He has some excellent scenes throughout.

In all, I’m still happy with the series, but I think it might lost viewers as it moves into season 3.

Advertisements

Downtown Abbey

Typing on the iPad. Who knows how well this will work.

I love Downton Abbey. I mentioned it the weekly recap on Monday but I got the name wrong. How embarrassing. They are doing a profile of me at work. I need to fill out this survey thing and one of the questions is “Favorite Tv Show”. Normally this would be a toss up of either the Wire or Care Bears (one of those is fake and should be replaced with The West Wing). But after only four episodes I’m all about Downton Abbey.

But none of you care. Is anyone else watching this? Season three has just finished. Is you take the murder mystery and the Altman flourishes out of Gosford Park, Downton is what you have. But it isn’t just taking away elements. A series can push in closer on all the characters. And instead of a murder mystery, Downton exists as part of history.

It has an ensemble cast of at least 18 primary characters. It is a period piece set in 1912 for the first season. It is about a noble British family, their servants and their estate, Downton Abbey. It is funny, kind, mean, serious, and mostly awesome. But I don’t know anyone else who would like it.

I finish this now to go watch another episode. Let me know if anyone else is watching.

Good Things List

And so…

When I review something I always find caveats.  Nothing is ever perfect.

True nuff.  I’m not likely to read the perfect book or see the perfect movie.  Regardless I worry I sound like a curmudgeon.  ‘Cause I like stuff, don’t cha know?

So here is a list of things in the last year that I’ve liked.  No review or commentary.

  1. Dr. Who – Season 6.
  2. Eureka – Season 1 and 2.
  3. The Good Wife – Season 2.
  4. The Big Bang Theory – Season 4
  5. Source Code
  6. Donnie Darko
  7. The King’s Speech
  8. Captain America
  9. Leviathan Wakes
  10. A Canticle for Leibowitz
  11. The Wise Man’s Fear
  12. A Dance with Dragons
  13. Lady Sabre and the Ineffable Aether
  14. Morning Glories
  15. Non Player
  16. Echo

 

Treme – Season Two – Review

“I love you New Orleans and I could never leave, but you are the cause of my life’s greatest tragedies.”

I think that s the theme of the second season of Treme.  I’d said to Tim that the season seemed unfocused compared to the first, but with the airing of the final episode the thematic resonance across the season seems clear to me now.

The theme in the first was the greatness of New Orleans.  Mostly this was showcased through its people.  How despite the calamity in the wake of Hurricane Katrina they brought the should to New Orleans.  Mardi Gras, and food and jazz – these are what the city is known for, but they all stemmed from its unique people and culture.

The second season was about the possibility that New Orleans might not always be good for those people.  They loved and laughed and sang, but the town also caused them to cry, and suffer and experience loss.

That make the season sound depressing, but it really isn’t.  These are still the same characters from the first season and their drive eventually will see them through their sorrows and out of them a little bit wiser (except maybe Davis).

Plus the season is filled with music.  I think it showcases more music than the first season and the music is stronger.  If you are interested in the blues, folk and jazz from the New Orleans area then the series is worth it for that alone.  If that is not your thing you’ll surely gain an appreciation as the series progresses.

My favourite character this season was Nelson, played by Jon Seda.  Nelson came from Houston when he heard there was work in New Orleans, but Nelson isn’t a worker.  Nelson “makes deals.”  Nelson finds a demand.  Then he finds a supply to meet that demand.  Then he puts them together, greases the wheels to make the deal happen and takes between 50%-80% of the profit as his finder’s fee.  When introduced you’d think he was a vulture; in New Orleans, to siphon off restoration money into his own coffers.  But that wasn’t the character.  He developed a quick and passionate love for the city.  His work seems trivial, but he put a lot of effort into it.  And he honestly seems to think that his way is simply the way business works.

The writers also played with the idea that Nelson was good for the city, bringing in new ideas and new money to a town that is largely stuck in a rut of doing things the way they have always been done.

It is a tricky role, I think, and Seda plays it with a mix of joy and wonder with a dash of snake oil salesman.  Nelson’s own cycle brings him in to New Orleans and eventually sets him all the way back to square one.

None of the performances this year rivalled that of John Goodman or Clarke Peters from season one, but that is praising with faint damnation.  Khandi Alexander, Rob Brown, Kim Dickens, Michiel Huisman, Melissa Leo, Lucia Micarelli, India Ennenga, Wendell Pierce, David Morse – really the whole cast.  If you watched the season and said anyone of them was actually the standout performer, I’d be hard pressed arguing with you.  The best moments might go to Clarke Peters as Big Chief Lambreaux again although his overall arc wasn’t as compelling.  Come Emmy season expect to see some of those names.

Because the season gets off to a slow start, I’d be cautious in recommending it.  Start with Season one.  But if you watch an episode or two, I’d encourage you to stick with season two because it pays off strongly in the end.  If you aren’t as speechless as Davis come the final scene I’d be surprised.

GoT – Last Review

Called in sick to work today.  Grr.  Grr.  Feel guilty because I missed a non-day at work.  It was a Fun Day for team building.  To speak truthfully I hadn’t been looking forward to it.

Anyway, the last episode of Game of Thrones aired on Sunday.  It is over and y’all won’t need to hear me speak of it again until the new book comes out next month (July 12).

I thought it ended strongly.  Episode 9 (the previous) was the climax.  This episode had a lot of setup for next season.  In fact, although I haven’t checked yet, I think some of the early chapters of book two might have shown.  The next book is really set in King’s Landing and deals with the politics of that city even more than the first book.

Dany’s scenes were pretty close to perfect, but structure wise they still haven’t paid off after the fourth book.  Leading into season two she doesn’t have nearly as many good sections.

Robb isn’t as strong as I’d like.  He seemed more led by his vassals and mother than kingly.  The exchange with Theon was nice though.

As usual Tyrion, Baelish and Varys are the highlights and that was the case here.  I wonder if that is unfortunate.  In the books the kids are the main characters.  Tyrion, Ned and Catelyn are the only adult POV characters in the first book.  In the mini-series the kids are fine, but they just don’t have the presence of the adults.

Clash of Kings is a middle book and suffers the fate of middle books.  It is strong in the King’s landing bits, but in other areas it is less dynamic than Game of Thrones.

All told I think the Game of Thrones mini-series was decent.  Nothing close to the reaction I had to the book when it was released.  It needs a bit more action to hold attention on an episode by episode basis.  At 10 hours long it still simplifies some of the plot elements – although the character motivations seem just as complex.  The violence isn’t more or less extreme than the book demands.  But the sex scenes are far more distracting.  Funny that several of the added scenes are exposition of character elements with one particular prostitute in them.  Once for Theon, once for Baelish and once for Pycelle.  By the third time is is starting to look like a crutch.

OK – time to go.  Take care folks!

I’m a Floaker!

I’m nearly halfway done the new book I purchased and I want to talk about it!  But I’ll wait and do a review when I’m finished.

Game of Thrones continues apace.  Episode 8 (or 10) aired on Sunday.  I thought that it was a very mixed episode.

It is the only episode that is written by the author of the books.  As such, more than any other episode it stayed very true to the books.  But it resulted in a bunch of problems for me.  The pacing was rushed.  While months passed in show-time no clear passage of time was communicated to the viewer.  I was left with th sense that armies were gathered and travelled hundreds of miles almost overnight.  It also had an ‘uncanny valley’ feeling.  It was so close to the books, but not quite that you got a vaguely unsatisfied feeling off it.

But a lot happened.  There was less exposition and more action and character.  That was good.  Many of the best moments from the book happened.  The opening fight with Syrio and the Lannister guards was excellent and the ending sequence with Khal Drogo was awesome.  Peter Dinklage as Tyrion is the most robust actor and he has a good scene with Tywin and good interactions with Bronn and the Mountain of the Moon clansmen too.  I could watch a whole Tyrion series.

I’m hoping that after the breakneck pace of this episode the last two will be able to slow down and take some time with the remaining events.  The climatic events in King’s Landing, the northern war and in the Dothraki Sea should all happen in episode nine.

Nifty.

Time to order dinner and then back to some more floaking.

Game of Thrones (HBO)

When the book was released (1996) I was an immediate and huge fan.  Since that time, I’ve been eagerly awaiting each subsequent book release and for the last year the planned HBO mini-series adaptation.

The series is a low-fantasy epic concerning a war fought in the fictional Seven Kingdoms and of impending additional calamities coming with the winter and the reemergence of dragons.

While there are many, many aspects of the book I enjoy the two most notable are the plot and characters.  Unlike most epic fantasy the master plot for Game of Thrones is neither a Quest nor a Coming of Age story.  Instead it is structured much more like Tolstoy’s War and Peace.  The oncoming war, its executions and its denouement is examined from several different points of view that cross age groups and social class.  In GoT, those POVs are mostly done by the 6 of the 8 members of the Stark family with two additional POV characters.  (In future books of the series, the POV characters are added to and removed.)

While GoT isn’t as ambitious or well-execute as War and Peace it does add an additional hook to the plot by having more than two sides to the conflict.  GoT has three active sides by the end of the book.  By the end of the next book in the series there are at least 5.

The second is that the author writes complex characters.  It would be easy to say he writes everyone with shades of grey, but that is inaccurate and boring.  He does do the following:

  1. Even minor characters are rarely just stock characters.  Each at least has their own motivation.
  2. There is a clear divide between the good guys and the bad guys.
  3. However, the good guys almost all have a very Shakespearean fatal flaw.  Generally this flaw is a side effect of their greatest virtue.
  4. And the bad guys all have at least one admirable trait.  Often this trait provides their motivation in their reprehensible deeds.

How is this series actually translating to the small screen?  5 episodes of the 10 episodes mini-series have now aired and approximately half the material in the book has been covered.  In general, the mini has been very faithful in adapting the book, but this is not always the best approach.  (Look at the failure of the Watchmen movie with its slavish devotion to the original text.)

GoT is tailor made for HBO adaptation.  The complexity of the story is similar to other period stories the network has done like Rome and Deadwood.  The book also has graphic language, shocking and sudden violence and a frank and vivid approach to sex.  Unfortunately thee items, which set the book apart in print seem both exploitative on screen and imitative of previous HBO successes.

In the book, I find that the strength of the plot and characters shines through these lurid items (not that they bother me).  It is an approach that is novel in epic fantasy.  On screen, it seems anything but and an end unto themselves.

The two largest problems though are the huge breadth of the cast and the glacial progress of the plot.  In the latest episode two major POV characters do not even appear.  The series is doing its best to introduce the cast a few characters at a time.  It took me three episodes to tell all the Starks (and Theon) apart.  I’m not sure how people who are unfamiliar with the base material are coping.  The progress of the plot is odd.  It works fine in the book, but on TV I notice that half of it is over and the largest turning points have not occurred yet.  There has been 5 hours of build up, but only a little payoff.

Those are three large criticisms, but I’d still say that overall I am well satisfied with the series.  The latest episode introduced three major scenes which were not in the book and I was on the edge of my seat for them all.  The scope of the production is impressive and surpasses many motion pictures.  The acting is varied, but the performances by Lena Hedey, Sean Bean and Peter Dinklage are really incredible.  And the two elements I like both about the source material are present and executed well in the series.

Like all HBO series, I only recommend it with caveats… it is for those who like that sort of thing.  (except for the Wire – the Wire is great).  But for those who do like the books or like the HBO period piece work like Deadwood or Rome, there is a lot here to enjoy.