Tag Archives: Ian McShane

The Atemporality of The Pillars of the Earth and its Impact on Game of Thrones

The Atemporality of The Pillars of the Earth and its Impact on Game of Thrones

July 23rd, 2010

I have never read Ken Follett’s The Pillars of the Earth, but I have a feeling that it would be a very different experience than this Miniseries.

I don’t necessarily mean that as a slight, even if it may read as one for fans of the book: I can’t know whether or not the miniseries, co-developed by Canada’s The Movie Network and American cable’s Starz, bastardizes Follett’s epic tome, but I do know that the story has been given a linear form which I can’t imagine exists in the original novel. Of course, considering the talent in front of the camera – with Ian McShane, Rufus Sewell, Matthew MacFayden, Eddie Redmayne, Alison Pill, Donald Sutherland and Gordon Pinsent in prominent roles – the miniseries is watchable, and has moments which hint to a greater depth which the series’ pace simply can’t indulge as often as one might like, but in the end one can’t help but feel that this is a miniseries produced by individuals who have too little faith in television as a medium for telling complex stories, choosing to boil down a narrative which would have likely been more engaging had it been left in its original form.

I think this is partially the result of the limitations (or the supposed limitations) of a plot-driven miniseries like this one, but it raises concerns about another upcoming adaptation, HBO’s Game of Thrones, which on paper would face similar problems. That being said, I think that the approach being taken with Game of Thrones is set to face the challenges of adapting this material, while I feel like Pillars of Earth cuts its losses at an early stage and fails to take off as a result.

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Summering in Deadwood: “Sold Under Sin” (The End of Season One)

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Summering in Deadwood: “Sold Under Sin”

Season One, Episode Twelve

[A note before we move on: friend of the blog Todd VanDerWerff is going through the show from a different perspective than I am, having already seen it, and is recapping the show for The A.V. Club. You can check out his thoughts on the first three episodes there – I am sure they are far more entertaining than my own.]

Just as I expected, there was a moment in Season One of Deadwood where my ability to successfully stop after each episode to blog about it, or to find enough time after watching a disc to sufficiently try to summarize where things were going to that point, pretty much disappeared. This isn’t a sign that I have become disinterested in the show, or even necessarily that I was so engrossed that I couldn’t take the time to stop. Rather, it was a combination from some “real world” commitments and the fact that this show may have some of the most unique pacing I’ve seen in a drama of this nature.

Admittedly, I’m used to watching The Wire in terms of my epic ensemble HBO shows go, and as such I got used to a single plotline denoting a season, and that plotline representing the plot that you could sort of follow your way through. In the process, you learn things about each character, the process serving as the main impetus while the characters react as seems necessary, often times to tragic or at the very least suspenseful results.

But what I’m learning watching “Sold Under Sin” is that Deadwood operates differently: yes, each season represents more one large storyline than any small selection of storylines contributing to a whole, but what sets Deadwood apart is that there isn’t really a plot to speak of. While the show’s finale shows the outside world infiltrating this lawless camp more than it has before, the show has been clear from the beginning that this was an inevitability, rather than anything we would find surprising or that would bring forth surprising behaviour from these characters.

On some level, this would be a complaint about another show: I can’t think of a single characters whose path has fundamentally surprised me, or gone in a different direction than I expected, and the show has relied almost entirely on nuance and performance in terms of its characters fulfilling predetermined destiny more than charting their own path. The show’s plot, meanwhile, has moved so slowly that a majority of its more explosive conflicts are left entirely absent from the finale, left smoldering while smaller and more recent conflicts prove the most dramatic in the episode. If we were to judge this finale based on these qualifiers, expecting dramatic shifts in character or plot resolution, “Sold Under Sin” is an abject failure.

But, just to be clear, this isn’t a show that should be judged on those qualities: those acting nuances are just plain compelling, the performances coming alive in this episode as in every episode right in line with Milch’s particular brand of dialogue, and the smoldering embers of conflict in the town are so full of potential that it was all I could do, even finishing the finale as the sun rose, to keep from popping in the first disc of Season Two.

And isn’t that the right way to judge a show, especially one which has clearly not yet begun (and considering its cancellation might not end) its journey?

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Summering in Deadwood: “Deadwood” (Season One, Episode One)

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Summering in Deadwood: “Deadwood”

Season One, Episode One

For those of you who don’t know, I came into television fairly late in life: rather than a lifelong obsession, my love for television really only arrived in 2004, with Lost and Veronica Mars amongst other shows providing a sudden awareness of the breadth of television available. Sure, there had been a few shows that had been appointment television before that point, but suddenly there was a desire to watch everything that was out there, a desire which eventually drove me to start this blog and, well, the rest is history.

However, in the process, there have been shows I’ve missed, a problem that takes longer to rectify when you’re watching so many shows currently airing and perhaps worst of all, also dealing with commitments to the real world. A lot of these shows happen to have aired on HBO: being both young and Canadian, my access to shows like The Sopranos, Six Feet Under, or The Wire was limited by resources, and there just wasn’t the drive to start catching up on them. Now, however, I find myself entering into a critical discourse wherein these shows (in particular The Wire and The Sopranos) are scarily prevalent, and so I’ve felt obligated to play catch up, and have picked up the DVDs whenever I’ve spotted a sale. As a result, last year I caught up on Six Feet Under (well, until I got frustrated and stopped mid-5th season), and spent a whirlwind few months with perhaps the best piece of television I’ve ever born witness to, The Wire.

This summer, after an informal twitter poll confirmed what I was likely to choose if left to my own volition, I shall be confronting the fourth part of this HBO twenty-first century grouping, David Milch’s Deadwood. It’s a show that I’ve heard extremely good things about, but also one that I am fairly ignorant of: I knew the basic premise, and knew the actors from various roles since the show ended (supposedly) prematurely, but my sense of the show’s general direction or message is pretty well a clean slate. I feel as if that’s a pretty good way to go into the series, although one that will admittedly make this post and others potentially less interesting for those who have already seen the show.

Summering in Deadwood is not going to be an overly formal review format, outside of my usual verbosity; I don’t expect I’ll review every single episode, focusing instead on likely some quick Twitter notes and reviews of the episodes which stand out for any particular reason, whether they be plot, character, or some sort of response which feels as if it is worthy of some discussion.

And to start things off, “Deadwood” is certainly worthy of some discussion.

[WARNING: I haven’t seen the show, and have not gone beyond the episode being written about – as a result, PLEASE refrain from spoiling anything to follow, although some subtle teases are allowed presuming they don’t ruin any surprises to come.]

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Series Premiere: Kings – “Goliath”

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“Goliath”

March 15th, 2009

The reasons for Kings’ failure to garner anything above a downright abysmal debut on Sunday night are a literal smorgasbord of criteria. Originally planned as a midseason replacement for ER before that show has its run extended when its ratings stabilized early in the season, Kings instead gets a mid-season launch at the worst possible time. Viewers haven’t taken to any of NBC’s new shows, and even its returning shows are struggling to stay afloat, so there’s no “What’s on NBC tonight?” to drive people to a new series. Airing on Sundays without a lead-in is yet another punishment, but unlike a show like Dollhouse, which can count on some substantial Friday evening DVR use, one doesn’t feel like Sunday night is bound to get the same level of uptick. And with Jay Leno set to take over five hours of primetime, the chances of the show garnering strong enough ratings to get itself a second season were slim to none even before the rather embarassing numbers came in.

But let’s throw that out the window for a moment and consider that, while up until last evening this was the only context for Kings in my mind, giving the show’s pilot a chance creates a substantially different reaction. While at its core the show emerges as a sort of monarchical soap opera, there is something in the show’s setting and its subtle compexities which gives it an air of something deserving of more than four million viewers, or at the very least a spot on a network where four million viewers would be considered a success. Led by Ian McShane, the cast is up to the challenge of getting through a lot of exposition in these two hours, setting the stage for an epic war that seems more than vaguely familiar the more we go along, but with more than enough shades of grey in characters’ motivations to create the kind of volatile instability that could sustain an audience.

Unfortunately, it’s an audience that didn’t even show up the first time around.

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