Tag Archives: Episode 1

Season Premiere: Game of Thrones – “Two Swords”

GameOfThronesTitle2

“Two Swords”

April 6th, 2014

“Killed the right people, I suppose.”

The beginning of Game of Thrones’ fourth season is caught in evaluative limbo.

We are past the point where it is a critic’s job to tell you what Game of Thrones is. At this stage, the show is the show, and nothing in the first three episodes of the season—which were sent to critics—changes that. To write an advance review of a season of Game of Thrones is less about evaluating its quality and more about offering vague previews of what’s to come for those who haven’t read the books but nonetheless want some sense of where their favorite characters are headed in the early-going, or for those who’ve read the books and want a basic gutcheck on how certain details were translated. If something in these first three episodes actually changes someone’s mind regarding the series, it would shock me not unlike the Red Wedding shocked non-readers.

This might be the last time I say this. The fourth season marks the first that will begin to actively and aggressively merge material from multiple books, likely resulting in some of the most substantial deviations from the source material to date. As someone whose interest in writing about the show comes in large part based on how the series approaches narratives, characters, and themes from the book in a different medium, we are on the verge of one of the most exciting periods for the series, one where the discourse will take on considerably higher stakes. Will readers embrace the changes? Will non-readers even notice that something is amiss?

“Two Swords” marks the calm before the storm, hence the evaluative limbo—although we are approaching the moment when I expect we’ll see far more interesting ranges of critical response to the series, the season premiere has the series firmly in transition, still holding onto the familiar instability we’ve come to understand. It’s a delicate transition, mind you, and one that David Benioff and D.B. Weiss—who doubles as director—handle extremely well, but it’s ultimately a familiar feeling returning to Westeros in season four.

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Season Premiere: Game of Thrones – “Valar Dohaeris”

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“Valar Dohaeris”

March 31st, 2013

“You’ve got to invent a story about where the ship is going and why.”

As Sansa and Shae look out on Blackwater Bay imagining where the ships are going, it’s hard not to think about the last time we as an audience watched the ships on Blackwater Bay. “Blackwater” brought a striking amount of clarity to the show, its tight focus clearly defining where the ships were going: Stannis Baratheon intended to take King’s Landing, because he believes himself to be the one true king of Westeros.

As Game of Thrones returns for its third season, such clarity seems long gone. As Robb notes, his men haven’t had a real battle in weeks, their “war” more of a glacial march in search of Lannister men more likely to “raze and run” than fight in the open battlefield. Stannis has retreated to Dragonstone to burn men alive in sacrifice to Melisandre’s lord of light, in hopes they will provide a path forward. Westeros is still at war, that much is certain, but the terms of that warfare are as muddled as they’ve ever been: much as the Narrow Sea separates Daenerys from her place on the Iron Throne, the other would-be Kings are equally unable to directly and openly lay claim to the title.

And yet they keep moving. Indeed, outside of those who remain at King’s Landing, nearly every character or group of characters are on the move, although it’s not always clear where they’re moving to precisely. “Valar Dohaeris” might reintroduce us to a collection of the show’s characters, but it’s an introduction that mostly finds characters exactly where they were before. The result is a premiere that lacks excitement not because things don’t happen, but rather because there’s little new information to hint toward what will happen next, relying on more general anticipation—often, to Sansa’s game above, of the viewer’s invention—as the narrative moves at its own pace.

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Season Premiere: Homeland – “The Smile”

“The Smile”

September 30th, 2012

Carrie’s life is just getting back on track when we rejoin her narrative. She’s living in her sister’s house, spending time with the family and teaching English as a Second Language. And so when the CIA comes calling, asking her to fly to Lebanon and engage a former contact, it asks her to return to the life she’s been trying to avoid.

Similarly, Brody is moving forward with his life as a congressman hoping that his relationship with Abu Nazir won’t become an active part in his life. He wants to believe that his subtle influence of policy is his role in the larger game, that his way of protecting Isa’s memory is to find ways to keep the same kind of attack from happening again. And so when he is contacted by one of Abu Nazir’s people to play a role in the planned attack in retaliation for the Israeli strikes on Iran, he’s forced back to that moment when he almost pulled the trigger. There, he was killing men responsible for the killing of innocents; now, he’s being asked to play a role in the killing of innocents in response.

“The Smile” asks us who these characters are in light of these new circumstances, testing their new identities based on their old lives. Does Brody still believe what he used to believe? Does Carrie still desire to live on the edge even once she’s spent time on stable ground? By combining the introduction of the season’s over-arching plot with this character study, “The Smile” serves as the perfect reintroduction to this world and the characters operating within it.

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Nickel and Dimed: Two Cents on HBO’s The Newsroom [Review]

“We Just Decided To”

June 24th, 2012

I saw all of the tweets about The Newsroom leading up to its debut. I saw them build with excitement around its beginnings, and then I saw them increase in volume while splintering off into numerous factions in the months leading up to its premiere. With some shows, screeners go out and very little is said about them within the critical community, with any chatter confined to backchannels. With The Newsroom, though, the conversation couldn’t help but spill out into public, and it became almost a rite of passage for critics to announce their opinion of the show so as to line up into certain camps.

This isn’t abnormal, precisely: whenever critics write a review, they are stating their opinion and implicitly entering into a particular group of critics who felt a particular way about a particular series. However, everything about the critical discourse around The Newsroom has been explicit, at least following it on Twitter: this is partly because of the show itself (which is divisive), and partly because of creator Aaron Sorkin (who has a divisive history), and partly because of the show’s would-be relationship to the sociopolitical. Without suggesting that Aaron Sorkin has actually made a television show that will change the news media and those who bear witness to it (which he has not, just so we’re entirely clear), the fact that he wants to renders critical evaluations into sociopolitical evaluations for some, with the rejection or acceptance of Sorkin’s worldview becoming a reflection of the critic’s own.

I don’t believe this to be true, of course, and have not read into—or read, actually—any of those critics’ reviews. When I realized that I would be going into The Newsroom tonight with the rest of the viewing public, I chose not to read the various intelligent, well-reasoned, divisive reviews of the series in advance; I knew I was going to watch it, and Twitter had already told me that the show is a case of “Your Mileage May Vary,” and part of me wanted to escape the discourse of Sorkin, and the media, and worldviews in favor of a more simple question.

Is The Newsroom an effective television pilot? A recent Facebook thread featuringprofessors/grad students discussing potential pilots to screen for students in a Television class got me thinking about this. On one level, you want to show students something great, something that grabs their attention and potentially sends them off to watch the rest of the series: we had a number of students do this with Friday Night Lights this past semester, for example. However, you could also show them a failed pilot (like David E. Kelley’s Wonder Woman, which I know the folks at the Good TVeets Con recently watched) and ask them where they think it went wrong.

While both strategies have merit, and are probably easier ways to communicate how pilots are intended to work, part of me wants to show them The Newsroom, which manages to succeed and fail in the same moments. Everything that works about The Newsroom is also everything that doesn’t, as Sorkin’s powerful use of momentum means we never have time to stop and connect to something more than a feeling that may not last as long as the show might like. I am aware that too much ink has probably been spent on the show already, and I’m likely repeating things many others have said, but I can’t deny that answering even this simply question left me plenty to say about The Newsroom.

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Mad Men – “A Little Kiss” & “Tea Leaves”

“A Little Kiss” & “Tea Leaves”

March 25th/April 1st, 2012

When James Poniewozik announced a few weeks ago that he wouldn’t be reviewing Mad Men’s fifth season week-to-week, I quietly made plans to follow suit given a busy semester with a whole lot of Monday deadlines. The idea of covering Mad Men without screeners in addition to covering Game of Thrones (for which I have screeners), all on the night before my busiest day of the week academically-speaking, was simply inconceivable until at least the end of May.

However, a few people sent emails and tweets wondering where my coverage was, at which point I realized that I had never exactly made these plans public. While I’m sad to be in a position where writing about the show weekly isn’t a feasible option, I’m also a little bit glad, if we’re being honest. I didn’t get to watch “A Little Kiss” until Wednesday night, but there was something freeing about watching it without a computer on my lap.

This doesn’t mean that I didn’t have opinions, and I want to share a few reflections on the first two episodes after the jump, but there’s a point at which the exhaustive writeup becomes, well, exhausting. As has become clear this year in particular, I no longer have the time to write post-air reviews of every show I watch, but I also think that with time I lose the inclination. Between the long hiatus and the weight of writing 2000+ words per episode for four seasons, Mad Men has simply transitioned into a show I enjoy more when I don’t feel the need to stake my authority over each episode in the hours after it airs.

However, as noted, I do want to offer some thoughts on the season’s beginnings, and would like to write with more regularity (if not necessarily on a weekly basis) once the semester ends and the season moves into its final episodes.

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Season Premiere: Game of Thrones – “The North Remembers”

“The North Remembers”

April 1st, 2012

“For the night is dark and full of terrors.”

Game of Thrones is a very different show now than it was when the first season began last April. “Winter is Coming,” the series premiere, was an introduction to the world of Westeros, the characters who inhabit it, and the basic principles of honor which would be torn asunder over the course of the next ten episodes. It was a hint at the dangers that lurked beyond the wall, a glimpse of the paths being forged for those south of it, and a beginning of what would become a much larger, and on some level never-ending, journey.

By comparison, “The North Remembers” tells a very different story. Those dangers are now more real, those paths well trodden, and that journey more expansive than that first episode could have established. Where there was one king there are now four, each staking a claim on power that might well lie in the hands of those who wear no crown and yet play their games behind the scenes, and there are more Kings and Queens waiting in the wings for their opportunity to strike in the future.

However, the strategies of these two episodes are nearly identical, each tasked with providing a bird’s eye – or, rather, comet’s eye – view of the narrative map of the series as it stands at this very moment. While “Winter is Coming” was introducing characters for the first time, “The North Remembers” is fittingly enough about restoring the audience’s memory. Using similar strategies to the series premiere, the episode drops in on the various story threads we left back in June, a helpful reminder for those who haven’t revisited the first season on DVD or HBO Go.

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Season Premiere: Shameless – “Summertime” and Televisual Space

“Summertime” and Televisual Space

January 8th, 2012

After rewatching the entire first season over the holidays with my parents, I found myself enjoying Shameless more than when it premiered (as I wrote about soon after), and I looked forward to checking out the second season. What I wasn’t expecting, though, was to find it so disarmingly different from what we saw last year.

This isn’t to say that the show has dramatically changed its approach to storytelling, although there is evidence to suggest that they are finding better ways of balancing the different character dynamics based on reviews from critics who have seen beyond tonight’s premiere. Rather, the fast-forward to the dog days of summer has created both a temporal shift and, more importantly, a spatial shift in terms of the characters and the world they live in. More generally, though, the long summer days offer a plethora of sunlight, dramatically transforming the aesthetic of the show and signaling a new season in a very direct, meaningful fashion.

I realize that this is not particularly evaluative, and if we were to speak exclusively on those terms I found the premiere promising but uneven, but I want to spend a bit of time discussing these changes relative to the question of space, an increasingly important factor as worlds begin to converge in a new spatial dynamic within the series.

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Season Premiere: Work of Art: The Next Great Artist – “Kitsch Me If You Can”

“Kitsch Me If You Can”

October 12th, 2011

As we drew closer to the season premiere of Bravo’s Work of Art, I began to get very nervous.

Last summer, I wrote a number of pieces that I think accurately capture my general obsession with this show, a complex and enormously flawed exercise that revealed things about the artifice of reality programming, the perils of reality editing, and the challenge of combining reality competition structure with something as purely subjective as fine art. However, while these difficulties may make it problematic within the fine art community, as a television critic I found Work of Art to be one of the most truly satisfying reality series I had ever seen. Each episode showed us something new about the artist, and their personal narratives were constructed, deconstructed, and reconstructed numerous times over the course of the season. So whether I was writing about the show at large, or about two of its contestants (Miles Mendenhall and Jaclyn Santos), I had a lot to say.

Sadly, I will not have time to say as much this fall simply due to time constraints, but going into tonight’s premiere I wondered if I was going to have anything to say at all. For some reason I became profoundly worried as of late that the show wouldn’t be able to catch lightning in a bottle twice, especially since it didn’t seem like the show did so on purpose last time around. The tension that once sat at the center of the show could easily be diffused with a production staff now aware of the series’ flaws, and a set of contestants who fully understand what it is that the show is trying to accomplish.

While I have not seen beyond tonight’s premiere, I feel as though I can state with some authority that all has not been lost. “Kitsch Me If You Can” is an extremely strong opener, managing to introduce the artists while simultaneously focusing almost exclusively on their process rather than their personalities. Although “The Sucklord” may be larger than life, for the most part the cast seems to consist of artists with points of view who will be tested and tested again over the course of the competition.

And the results, at least in tonight’s finale, were pretty fantastic.

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Season Premiere: Glee – “The Purple Piano Project”

“The Purple Piano Project”

September 20th, 2011

Since watching Glee’s third season premiere late last night, I’ve seen a number of fairly harsh reviews of the episode, and I’m not entirely sure I’m on the same page.

Now, let me clarify that: I agree with pretty much everything that Todd and Ryan suggest in their own reviews, and I wouldn’t say that they were too harsh by any stretch of the imagination. However, my reaction to the episode wasn’t nearly as strong, whether it was positive or negative. I think it was one of those cases where the episode in theory was more offense than in practice, the very idea of the various storylines more problematic than the execution.

Normally I find this particularly annoying, but something about the mood I was in last night led to a fundamental lack of emotional response. It’s one of those situations where I’ve become numb to the pain, no longer at the point where I’m expecting the show to correct its mistakes or remain consistent in its storytelling. Instead, “The Purple Piano Project” was broken down into parts in my mind, and I was able take the parts I liked (as isolated as they might be) and more or less shrug my shoulders at the rest of it.

Which makes for a better viewing experience, but maybe not the kind of viewing experience FOX is looking for as Glee faces the perils of both Junior Year (as a television show) and Senior Year (as a narrative device) simultaneously.

Although, let’s remember that Falchuk, Brennan and Murphy have some friends along for the ride this time around.

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Season Premiere: Breaking Bad – “Box Cutter”

“Box Cutter”

July 17th, 2011

It has been over thirteen months since Breaking Bad finished its third season, which isn’t something that happens all that often. Of course, AMC will be dealing with this issue twice in one year when Mad Men returns early next year, but that show didn’t leave on an arresting cliffhanger. “Full Measure” was a thrilling hour of television, creating suspense through uncertainty as opposed to mystery. We know what happened, and the sequence of events that allowed it to happen were delineated without any sudden twists or turns, but the finale left us with a sense of disbelief: we were haunted by that final image more than we were shocked by it, and we desired its conclusion less to have something resolved and more to see something begin.

“Box Cutter” picks up where “Full Measure” left off, although not immediately. The episode is very interested in the dramatic power of delay, lingering in those moments of waiting for the other shoe to fall. It doesn’t seek to surprise us so much as it seeks to make us reconsider: it knows we spent a year thinking about the various possibilities, so it lays out a likely scenario and then basically sits back and lets our own anxiety drive this story forward. The result is bracing in its minimalism if a wee bit writerly, further cementing Breaking Bad’s reputation as one of the most distinctive dramas on television.

And, yes, one of its finest as well.

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