Tag Archives: Premiere

Series Premiere: Game of Thrones – “Winter is Coming”

“Winter is Coming”

April 17th, 2011

“That’s an honor I could do without.”

The moment which brings “Winter is Coming,” the series premiere of HBO’s Game of Thrones, to a close is meant to shock the viewer. It is the very definition of a cliffhanger, a moment which makes us anticipate its resolution and theorize as to the result. I would also argue that it’s quite an effective cliffhanger, one which shapes the remainder of the series’ narrative and one which is tremendously well-rendered in this adaptation.

However, for those who have read A Song of Ice and Fire, the George R.R. Martin-penned novels on which the series is based, it isn’t a cliffhanger at all. In fact, for those viewers, it was never a cliffhanger: when the event in question took place on page 85 of my well-worn paperback, all one had to do was turn to page 86 in order to see what happened next. The cliffhanger would last mere moments, unless one somehow had the willpower to stop reading at that precise moment and return to the book a week later. Martin’s novels are designed to be devoured, not savored, and yet his story is now arriving in hour-long segments that will air once every week.

Ultimately, “Winter is Coming” demonstrates the compatibility of Martin’s novels and the televisual form: David Benioff and D.B. Weiss have brought Westeros to life by capturing the spirit of Martin’s prose and by embracing the opportunities presented by both the visual and structural qualities made possible by HBO’s commitment to the series. The episode is a compelling introduction to this story and these characters, successfully navigating the plethora of pitfalls that are created in an adaptation of a high fantasy series.

But at the same time, let’s be frank: everyone, from fans of the novels to those who don’t know their Starks from their Lannisters, will need to adjust to the particularities of this particular form of storytelling.

And thus the Game begins.

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Season Premiere: United States of Tara – “…youwillnotwin…”

“…youwillnotwin…”

March 28th, 2011

When United States of Tara entered its second season, the Gregson family thought that everything had changed: Tara had defeated her alters through the use of medication, and the entire family was ready to move forward with something approaching a normal life. Of course, normalcy proved unattainable: the old alters returned, new alters emerged, and turmoil between family members left Max, Kate and Marshall confronting their own identities in light of their mother’s struggle.

What is immediately clear in the show’s third season premiere is that there is no such false normalcy. For better or for worse, the Gregson family has embraced (or will be forced to embrace) that they are in no way, shape, or form normal, and it shows in “…youwillnotwin…” It is a confident premiere on a number of levels, but primarily because it embraces the stabilizing influence of instability. By embracing the cyclical nature of life, and by placing the characters in positions to be impacted – but not defined by – those cycles, United States of Tara is in a position to continue to evolve without having to introduce dramatic new elements into the equation.

All it takes, it appears, is a bit of a push in the right direction and a willingness to ride the wave.

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Mildred vs. The Miniseries: Structure and Scheduling in HBO’s Mildred Pierce

Structure and Scheduling in HBO’s Mildred Pierce

March 27th, 2011

The front cover of the press kit sent to critics for HBO’s Mildred Pierce suggests that Kate Winslet is Mildred Pierce in a five-part Miniseries.

The inside cover, meanwhile, touts Academy Award winner Kate Winslet starring in a film by Todd Haynes.

None of this is ostensibly untrue. Kate Winslet is both an Academy Award winner and unquestionably the centerpiece of this project – if there’s a single scene in which she does not appear, I have no recollection of it. And this is indeed a project directed by Todd Haynes, and it will air in five parts over the course of three weeks starting this evening at 9/8c.

However, I’m admittedly quite intrigued by the notion of “miniseries” and “film” being used as synonyms. To be clear, I know it isn’t ostensibly wrong: considering that Todd Haynes directed all five parts of the miniseries, and that they were all scripted by Haynes and Jon Raymond, this is a single cohesive project which has simply been split into five parts (oddly enough airing over three weeks). And yet there’s something strange about considering this as a single project given the way it will be seen by the majority of its audience, and the way it will be covered in certain locations which cover shows on a weekly basis.

I was actually going to write about the reception of the miniseries independent of having seen it, but I felt that I should withhold that commentary until actually sitting down with all five and a half hours. And yet, watching it has created only more questions: did I watch it in the “correct” fashion by seeing it all over the course of a single evening with a brief intermission, or was it actually meant to be consumed in the episodic fashion being utilized by HBO?

And, perhaps more importantly, is it worth your time at all?

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Back to the (Reality) Future: “Unfinished Business” and “Redemption Island”

Back to the (Reality) Future: The Amazing Race and Survivor

February 20th, 2011

Watching the Survivor: Redemption Island premiere, I listened to Jeff Probst with a certain degree of skepticism. His argument was that Rob and Russell both had their own form of unfinished business, having played the game multiple times without ever having won. However, really, their presence is not about their story – they are there because Survivor needed a hook, and pitting two of its most infamous players against one another. While I think Russell probably believes that he is there to prove something, I think that Rob is just there to have fun, which for me makes him much more enjoyable to watch.

The fact is that seeing reality contestants try to “prove” something holds very little value for me. I appreciate a good reality storyline, and I think that every great reality show needs a great narrative or three in order to sustain itself. What is always difficult about all-star driven seasons, like both Redemption Island and The Amazing Race: Unfinished Business, is the way in which the narrative is defined for us: in the latter case, the teams are all introduced based on the reason they lost, and the season becomes more about them moving past that initial defeat than anything else.

I know my Amazing Race history, and so I remember almost all of these teams (like many others, Amanda and Kris were too short-lived and too generic to make an impression, but I did remember them eventually). There are also many stories here that I am inherently attached to: Zev and Justin’s early exit thanks to a lost passport and Mel and Mike’s charming father/son dynamic were two narratives that ended too early, and that I was excited to see more of. On the other hand, the idea of seeing more of Margie and Luke is somewhat terrifying, given the fairly odious behavior which characterized their more tense moments back in Season 14.

The difference between Redemption Island and Unfinished Business is simple: while the former has the ability to create new narratives early on, both based on the minimal all-star presence and the structure of the game, the latter is not built for the same type of instant narrative. This does not make it a failure, as the opening episode is filled with spectacle designed to highlight the switch to filming in HD, but it does mean that the season’s real value won’t be certain until we get a bit deeper into the race and see if any new narratives might be able to emerge.

Although there is evidence to suggest that the show is well aware that you can’t coast your way to the finals with just Unfinished Business.

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Series Premiere: The Chicago Code – “Pilot”

“Pilot”

February 7th, 2011

In some ways, The Chicago Code seems like the only new series premiering this midseason.

Oh sure, there are a number of other shows making their debuts in the first two months of the year, but The Chicago Code has been one of the year’s most-buzzed about pilots since last Spring, when it was still in contention for the Fall lineup. Being bumped to midseason (for Lone Star, no less) may have been seen as a slight the first time around, but it turned into a real coup for Shawn Ryan and company. Their show went from one of the year’s most talked about pilots to the year’s last great hope, the one new network show that critics could actually endorse wholeheartedly which doesn’t get immediately canceled.

We all know what happened to Lone Star, however, and yet I feel fairly confident that the same fate is unlikely for this particular program. At its core, The Chicago Code is a police drama, but it stands out in the fact that it seems so committed to surface multidimensionality. There are no “cop shows” on television which are actually one-dimensional: they all have their quirks, and all engage in elements of character and basic seriality on a smaller scale. However, for the most part, they purposefully appear one-dimensional. One of the reasons that shows like CSI or NCIS have become a punchline is that they are sold as something blindly simple, capable of being reduced and often (although not always) reducing themselves as if to meet those lowered expectations.

At least evidenced by its pilot, The Chicago Code is not playing the same game. Not content to establish simply a premise or a setting in its opening episode, the show establishes a world: a story is told, a map is drawn, and ambiguities are left without feeling as though pointless mystery is being used to create gutless melodrama. It’s just a really smart hour of television, and one senses that the intelligence isn’t going to suddenly stop in the weeks ahead.

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Conan the Morning After: Critics Respond to the Premiere

Conan the Morning After: “Baa Baa Blackmail”

November 9th, 2010

Despite what their titles or tags may say, no one really “reviewed” Conan last night.

While an evaluative measure may have been undertaken by numerous critics, it is always with an asterisk: yes, we all had our opinions following Conan O’Brien’s return to late night television, but making a judgment based on a single episode of a show which plans to air four episodes a week is effectively impossible.

This should not, and did not, stop critics from being critical of his performance or from offering their perspective, but it does limit critics to what I’d consider to be “personal responses.” It becomes about what expectations we had going into the broadcast, and whether or not the “Baa Baa Blackmail” (the premiere’s rather fun “title”) lived up to those expectations depends on what precisely we wanted or expected to see.

By collecting some of these responses, i hope to be able to demonstrate that Conan and late night in general are many things to many critics, and that the show is in many ways “for” the precise opposite audience.

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Who is Conan‘s Conan?: A Personal Response to TBS’ Conan

Who is Conan‘s Conan?: A Personal Response

November 8th, 2010

Watching Conan was a bit of a bizarre experience. Admittedly, I am not a regular viewer of Late Night, but Conan O’ Brien is probably the host that I enjoy the most, and so I was curious (if not necessarily outright excited) for him to return to the airwaves. And so I tuned into TBS for the debut of his new series, a debut which stems from a ridiculous and controversial transition at NBC, and…it was a bit weird.

It’s especially weird coming out of a period where the idea of Conan O’Brien, which is frankly what I would call myself a fan of, was all we had: with just a Twitter feed to sustain us, the mythology of Conan in the “Team Coco” era actually seemed to get a bit out of control. Once a cult favorite among younger demographics, stuck at 12:30, Conan has become a national symbol of the downtrodden despite becoming filthy rich in the process. As a result, while I am glad that Conan is back on television, I no longer have that sense that he exists as a counter to the establishment, as an odd duck who does what Leno does with a subversive edge that sets him apart.

Instead, Conan’s difference has become a commodity, and the result is a premiere which relies so heavily on recent history that it obscures what precipitated his rise to folk heroism in such a way that boils his act down to the past year of his career.

Which results in a funny hour of late night television, but one which fits more comfortably into broader public discourse than Conan’s history would suggest. The following is not a judgment of the series, impossible since it has aired only a single episode, but an effort to understand why I responded to the premiere in this way.

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Series Premiere: The Walking Dead – “Days Gone Bye”

“Days Gone Bye”

October 31st, 2010

I addressed The Walking Dead generally in my piece last night, but I do want to address the premiere in particular.

As far as premieres go, this is a really strong effort aesthetically: character is largely on the backburner in an effort to define the scale of this world, which operates directly in opposition to characterization. The whole point of the series, after all, is that humanity has dwindled down to a small collection of survivors, and yet this creates an even grander sense of scale as a result of the sheer emptiness.

I want to talk about that emptiness a bit, and the role it plays in telling the story in “Days Gone Bye.”

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On Zombies: Community and The Walking Dead

On Zombies: Community and The Walking Dead

October 31st, 2010

I’ve already written enough about Halloween episodes (both in my review of The Office at The A.V. Club and in my piece on Halloween-themed TV episodes at Antenna) that writing a review of Community’s “Epidemiology” in that context seems like a waste of time. In fact, part of me feels as if it’s too late to really add anything new to the discourse.

However, having now watched the first two hours of AMC’s The Walking Dead – which premieres tonight at 10/9c with a special 90-minute opener – I think that I want to talk about zombies, and their function as genre. In a movie, zombies are easy: you introduce zombies, chaos ensues, heroes emerge, a conclusion is reached (which is either the heroes proving themselves capable of subsisting within a zombie-infested nation or the zombie outbreak being contained, presuming a happy ending is desired). Admittedly, I’ve only watched a handful of zombie movies thanks to being largely averse to suspense, but the point I want to get across here is that there’s a clear timeline. There is a situation, there is a conclusion, and you move on from there.

When you move this notion into television, however, you’re forced to live in that space, which is a problem that The Walking Dead will have to face should it join the rest of AMC’s lineup. Community, of course, is a very different situation, but it is nonetheless interesting to note that seriality plays a pretty substantial role in how their zombie story is told, and so I think tackling them both simultaneously will speak to some of the things which impressed me about Community and some of what concerns me about The Walking Dead.

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The Pleasure of the ‘Unnecessary’: BBC’s Sherlock

The Pleasure of the ‘Unnecessary’: BBC/PBS’ Sherlock

July 31st, 2010 / October 24th, 2010

Before I watched it, I found Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss’ Sherlock [which premiered tonight on PBS in the U.S., but which aired on the BBC back in July] to be quite perplexing.

Trailer: BBC’s Sherlock

First of all, I wondered whether we really needed another take on Sherlock Holmes considering that Guy Ritchie’s movie (which I thought was solid, but unremarkable) was released only seven months ago. Now, before you jump on me, I became aware in doing some research that the original pilot for this series was shot long before the movie debuted, but considering how late the series is arriving it was nonetheless the first thought which popped into my mind.

Second, does Steven Moffat really need to write for another eccentric problem solver? The Doctor is, in many ways, a detective in his own right, along with being both an outcast and a genius, so one can’t help but feel that Moffat is developing a type (albeit one that, in the case of the Doctor, I quite enjoy).

And third, and this is speaking from my North American experience, television is littered with series which owe much of their structure to Conan Doyle’s work. House has both the eccentric problem solving and the Holmes/Watson dynamic in House and Wilson, The Mentalist has the eccentric, observational crime solver with the archnemesis, and every single crime procedural on television has the whole “crime solving” part of things.

While it may have been received differently had it made it out before Ritchie’s film, or before Moffat took over Doctor Who, the fact remains that Sherlock is emerging in an environment where it feels “unnecessary” for those of us not entirely familiar with the source material, which can lead one’s mind to words like “disposable” (which, for North American viewers accustomed to 22-episode seasons, isn’t helped by the short three-episode order). So, it is perhaps that much more impressive that I really enjoyed Sherlock, a sentiment shared by the British audience which helped it garner some pretty substantial ratings which could get it a second season late next year.

It’s a well-made show building from a well-made premise, which may not make it “necessary” but which certainly makes it something I am glad to have on my television, and hope to have on my television in the future.

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