March 25, 2013 · 9:02 pm
Review: Game of Thrones Season Three
March 25th, 2013
At the conclusion of watching the third season premiere of HBO’s Game of Thrones, I realized something: despite the fact that I had enjoyed the premiere a great deal, it hadn’t featured a single scene with one of my favorite characters.
Of course, this is not a new problem for the series, what with its intense narrative fragmentation: Jason Mittell’s analysis of the series’ “scenic rhythms” spoke to this at the end of last season, wondering whether this helped explain his different responses to the first season (which he binged on) and the second season (which he watched weekly).
I’ll leave it to Jason to actually break down the number of scenes/foci in the second season premiere, but it’s safe to say the show remains committed to telling a sprawling collection of stories in season three. What’s different, though, is that there is no longer—or rather not yet—a central conflict that anchors the narrative in the way that Ned Stark’s plight in King’s Landing or the War of the Five Kings offered in previous seasons (even though the latter is still ongoing, albeit with fewer kings). While the kingdom ostensibly remains at war, the events that open the season place everyone in a sort of holding pattern, leaving each story to create its own purpose and momentum.
These two challenges—an increasingly fragmented narrative and a lack of a clear overarching story arc—are not insurmountable; in fact, I found neither to be particularly concerning, and found the first four episodes of the season to be a most welcome return to Westeros. However, the circumstances under which I viewed these episodes mitigated these factors in ways that not all viewers will have access to. As someone who has read the books, I know where these narratives are heading, and can therefore read purpose and momentum in ways that those ignorant to those futures may not. And as someone who is lucky enough to receive advance screeners for the series, I had the luxury of popping in the second episode when I discovered one of my favorite characters doesn’t appear in the first one, something that those watching weekly won’t have.
What I’m suggesting, I suppose, is that Game of Thrones has evolved in such a way that I’m unsure if my experience with the show’s third season can be successfully mapped into a more generalized “review.” I thought every storyline was well executed, I enjoyed every episode, and I was left wanting more, but I also left wondering how much those responses were shaped by the context in which the episodes were viewed, and if we’re reaching the point where reaction to the series will be divided more starkly among devoted viewers and more casual audiences.
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March 22, 2013 · 6:29 pm
A Box of Influence: Game of Thrones and Cultural Capital
March 22nd, 2013
Two years ago, HBO shipped a collection of critics, celebrities, and cultural observers a box designed to introduce them to the world of Westeros. The box, which I wrote about in detail here, served as a sensory journey into what was at that point a new televisual universe, one HBO hoped would become a centerpiece of their brand identity. By sending the box out to “opinion leaders,” the hope was that they would share their experiences with the intricately crafted artifact with their readers or followers, setting the tone for a series sold in part on its lavish production design and attention to detail.
This month, HBO shipped a collection of celebrities a box designed to initiate them into the world of Westeros. However, the Westeros of 2013 is different than the Westeros of 2011. If the “Scent Box” of 2011 was designed as an artifact of the fictional Westeros, the various personalized “Influencer” boxes being sent to people like Mindy Kaling, Anna Kendrick, Bruno Mars, Jaime King, Patton Oswalt, Stephen Colbert, and Conan O’Brien are artifacts of the pop cultural Westeros. If the 2011 campaign was designed to establish the authenticity of Game of Thrones’ fictional world, the 2013 campaign seeks to reaffirm Game of Thrones’ status as a cultural phenomenon as its third season premiere beckons.
While the first campaign was largely heralded as a sign of HBO’s commitment to the series’ mythology and helped associate the show with quality discourses valuable to a premium cable channel, the latter campaign has been met with some criticism (although not by the celebrities themselves, most of whom have not been shy about performing their fannish [and NSFW] response to the delivery). To paraphrase sections of my Twitter feed in the past few weeks, HBO is effectively spending thousands of dollars to send rich celebrities personalized gifts to promote a show that is already wildly successful and likely to run for many seasons, all while smaller shows like Enlightened are canceled due to a lack of viewers (and, tied to this concern, a lack of promotional support). In addition, picking up on a discourse that was not uncommon during the initial campaign, some fans simply wonder why “celebrity” fandom is more valued than their own: one fan at WinterIsComing.net wrote “This is really unfair. Why do celebs get this sent to them? We’re the fans. The real fans.”
However, the “Influencer Box” reflects broader shifts in how television success is measured: even since 2011, the perceived value of Twitter and other forms of social media has dramatically increased, even if the industry as a whole remains uncertain as to how to monetize that value. HBO’s decision to turn Game of Thrones loose into the world of celebrity self-disclosure reflects their belief that the best strategy to draw new subscribers is not just to promote the show itself (which they continue to do), but rather the idea of the show as a social media event. While the Influencer Box features the first two seasons on Blu-Ray, ostensibly encouraging those who receive or read about the box to watch the series, it also includes “exclusive extras which the owner can use on their social media sites to show off their fandom,” which HBO is now extending out to the “real fans” through a collection of site-specific giveaways on sites like WinterIsComing.net or Slashfilm. While reminding viewers about the third season premiere is the stated goal of the box— as demonstrated by the “scroll” that accompanies the box urging celebrities to promote the March 31st return date—the larger goal is informing the world that Game of Thrones is bigger than just a television show.
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January 11, 2011 · 12:05 am
Listening to the audio commentary on Greek‘s third season finale, I was struck by the mention of a “Save Greek” campaign – not because it brought back nostalgic memories of a barrage of red cups flooding ABC Family’s offices, but rather because I didn’t know such a thing existed.
Greek is one of those shows which operates outside of critical consciousness: there were no critics lining up to ensure that the series got a short ten-episode fourth season in order to conclude its storylines, and what fan behavior there was never seemed to bleed into even popular journalism. Instead, the campaign was apparently much like the show itself: inconspicuous, subtle, but ultimately effective. Without the ratings success of The Secret Life of the American Teenager, or the scandal-driven storylines of Pretty Little Liars, Greek has pretty much been left to its own devices, and the result has been a compelling if not necessarily earth-shattering comic drama series.
Admittedly, I don’t write about the show a great deal – it just isn’t something that suits weekly critical analysis, although I did recently get the opportunity to review the fourth season premiere at The A.V. Club. However, I was extremely excited earlier this year when it was revealed that Shout! Factory would be taking over the DVD production for Greek (as well as the beloved, and sadly missed, Huge): the company has a sterling reputation when it comes to creating polished sets worthy of their respective series, and while this is normally in relation to beloved classics or cult favorites (Freaks and Geeks, Undeclared, Sports Night, The Larry Sanders Show, My So-Called Life, etc.) they are in this case bringing the same sense of care to an ongoing series.
The result is hardly groundbreaking: this is not a complex show which would necessitate a detailed DVD package, and where one might normally find retrospectives or numerous deleted scenes you’ll instead find small snippets of behind-the-scenes footage and packages which seem aimed squarely at the show’s rabid fanbase rather than the television connoisseur. And yet I am acutely aware that I am not, in fact, the target audience for Greek: Chapter Five – The Complete Third Season (which releases today, January 11th, in North America at your retailer of choice). This is for the fans who sent in those red cups, the people who watch the show from an angle where Casey/Cappie are a portmanteau-worthy coupling rather than an ultimate detriment to the series’ success.
This set, dubbed Chapter Five for reasons I’ll discuss after the break, should please those long-term fans – it is also a good value, though, for those who have yet to discover the series’ charms.
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December 30, 2010 · 3:17 pm
Kurt Sutter’s War on (Some) Critics
December 30th, 2010
Earlier this year, I wrote a profile of sorts regarding the role that Kurt Sutter’s Twitter account, @sutterink, was playing in shaping Sons of Anarchy’s image within online communities, and the degree to which its polarizing nature would play into one’s experience of watching the series. When I wrote that piece, I had more or less no opinion on the issue: while I found it academically interesting, on a personal level I felt as if the Twitter account was a logical extension of the kind of renegade spirit which defines the series and Sutter’s personal approach to both storytelling and showrunning. It’s his opinion, his Twitter account, and his show – that gives him every right to say whatever he so desires, and I have no intention of vilifying his activity in this area.
However, on a personal level, my opinion has changed. I am among those who were disappointed in Sons of Anarchy’s third season, a group which includes many of the same people who were so high on the show before the ratings bump in Season Two made it into FX’s biggest hit. It is a group which includes intelligent critics, critics who elaborate on their opinions on a near-weekly basis and whose opinions are well-respected. It is also a group which includes people who may not be as well-respected, and whose opinions may not be quite as elaborate, as is the case with any or all responses to television in the internet age.
My frustration is not that Sutter refuses to admit that Season Three was a failure – that remains, of course, just my opinion – but rather that he seems intent on categorizing and labeling critical response to the season based on broad generalizations which suggest a hivemind incapable of independent, or comprehensive, thought. While there is an argument to be made that trends in online criticism contributed to the negative response to Season Three, suggesting that it is the result of bandwagons or gender determination represents a dismissal and an insult to the very kinds of people who supported the show in years past, and may now be less likely to support the show in the future.
And these suggestions may be the only thing more confounding than the narrative decisions which drove Sons of Anarchy’s third season.
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June 5, 2009 · 6:20 am
“Friends and Family”
June 4th, 2009
“Danger isn’t always Obvious”
This is not a new edict for Michael Weston, or Burn Notice in general: since the beginning of the show, Michael’s greatest tip for the audience as told through his narration is to be able to spot danger before it happens, reading a situation in a way that few others can. He made his living being able to spot and avoid dangerous situations, and he has used those skills in his post-blacklist existence to find success in new areas of his life.
But moving into the show’s third season, danger is more unpredictable than ever before on the broad, serialized level the show has gradually built into its procedural frame. In the first season, Michael knew that he had been burned by someone in particular but was largely acclimating to his new existence and only occasionally interacting with the danger they represented. In the second season, Michael began to better understand that danger, even infiltrating it by using their interactions through Carla and others against them, and while they never became less dangerous he at least understood how they, as operatives similar to himself, might operate.
But now, as we open the season with Michael swimming five miles in suit pants, we discover an environment where even the observational technique of Michael Weston can’t really comprehend the dangers that could befall him on an individual mission. The show’s structure remains mostly unchanged, but more than ever before they are capable of (as we see in the premiere) spiraling into a far more dangerous situation than Michael first realized. Adhering to the old adage, the devil you know is often better than the devil which could take a multitude of forms ranging in danger and, more importantly, ranging in their approaches.
The result is “Friends and Family,” a setup for another great season, one presents another explosive and rewarding variable to the show’s already winning formula, and one which highlights some of the show’s best elements.
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Filed under Burn Notice
Tagged as Brian Van Holt, Bruce Campbell, Entertainment, Episode One, Fiona, Friends and Family, Grand Theft Auto, Harlan, Jeffrey Donovan, Matt Nix, Michael Weston, Review, Sam, Season Premiere, Season Three, Television, The Management, USA Network
April 25, 2009 · 8:22 pm
Save Chuck: A Movement with a Message
April 25th, 2009
As some of you may know, I found myself caught up in the whirlwind that was the Save Jericho campaign, where fans went nuts and sent nuts, bringing their canceled show back from the dead. Since that show’s success, there have been numerous campaigns to save other shows, and to be honest I haven’t really got behind any of them. I got behind Jericho because it was a true grassroots movement, an example of the power of the internet, of fans, and of expanding the definition of success from traditional ratings measurements; to be honest, the show never really captured me, but the fact that it captured others so strongly was something worth fighting for.
But I can honestly say that this is the first time that I am entering, albeit late thanks to my vacation, a fan campaign primarily because I love the show involved. Chuck was an engaging series last year, but this year it has elevated itself to an entirely new level: this is not the most intelligent show on television, or the funniest, or the most dramatic, but its ability to combine all of these elements into a single package has created a series that myself and hopefully many, many others view as worthy of our time and energy. Saving Chuck is not just some sort of experiment, but something that is necessary for my faith in NBC as a network, and network television as a medium for high-calibre entertainment, to remain intact.
What I want to discuss is how the campaign is operating, and how there are three keys to its success that have given it a real chance of succeeding: I write this, two days before the show’s season finale, without the intention of placing a (Series?) in that post title, or even considering that possibility, and I honestly feel as if this goes beyond wishful thinking. Based on every piece of evidence before us, the campaign to Save Chuck has all of the momentum to overcome the obstacles facing it and send a message to NBC and all other networks that we’re not ready to let a great show go so easily.
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Filed under Chuck
Tagged as Campaign, Chuck vs. the Colonel, Critics, Entertainment, Jay Leno, Links, NBC, Product Placement, Quality, Renewal, Save Chuck, Season Finale, Season Three, Subway, Television
January 17, 2009 · 3:11 pm
Season Three, Episode 13
Leaping forward about six months at the beginning of the show’s second season nearly killed Friday Night Lights – there was a sense that all the time we missed had been eventful for these characters, and their motivations had changed in ways that were not something that should happen off screen. We found a Dillon, Texas that, in many ways, we didn’t know anymore.
What we find in the show’s third season finale, perhaps its last, is a show that has recaptured that time lost, given us a sense of who these people are again. We found a group of people we care about, a group whose futures are uncertain and will be our final goodbye to many of these characters. With the team’s State championship lost last week in the penultimate episode, the finale takes the risk of flashing forward five months to the moment when their present collides with their future.
The result is a finale that defines the ways in which this show is most successful, giving us those moments and emotional highs (and lows, to an extent) that the show is known for. But what is most strange about the finale is that it was less resolute than I imagined: characters we expected to ride off into the sunset (which the episode even ends with) ended up in their own sort of holding pattern. It’s as if, almost, we’re not saying goodbye after all, but to be honest I was so expecting definitive final moments that I almost feel sad about the fate of some of these characters.
I guess it makes sense, really: in what could be a bittersweet experience balancing the joy of getting a third season and the reality of a fourth being quite skeptical, it makes sense that as the show lays groundwork for a fourth season the balance of things would feel at least somewhat out of whack. It’s natural that we get the “Tomorrow Blues” as we transition from one moment to the next, but at least the tradition brings us another fine episode in a strong season.
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Filed under Friday Night Lights
Tagged as Austin, Coach Taylor, College, Dillon, DirecTV, East Dillon Lions, Entertainment, Episode 13, Finale, FNL, Jeremy Sumpter, Joe McCoy, Landry, Matt Saracen, NBC, Ratings, Season Finale, Season Four, Season Three, Series Finale, Television, Texas, Tim Riggins, Tyra
January 8, 2009 · 11:44 pm
“Senor Macho Solo”
January 8th, 2009
For 30 Rock, the comedy is often to be found in the details: it isn’t that the broader plots themselves are that comically complex, but rather that the way they are executed offers enough individual quirks to elevate the series above most other comedies on television.
Tonight’s episode was a test of this particular theory, because its three storylines were all pretty thin on paper; more accurately, they were probably post-it notes somewhere. “Liz mistakes dwarf for child,” “Jenna plays Janis Joplin,” and “Jack hooks up with mother’s nurse” are all storylines that either feel like brainstorms from existing storylines, excuses to justify the existence of characters and having Jane Krakowski sing, and Fey and Co. digging through season two of Friday Night Lights and realizing that maybe the Carlotta storyline would be better if it was purposefully played for comedy.
Ultimately, I feel like “Senor Macho Solo” works because of the show’s ability to pull some really great comedy out of these situations, but there will come a point where the show will need to feel less like it’s pulling itself in opposite directions.
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Filed under 30 Rock
Tagged as Alec Baldwin, baby crazy, dwarf, Entertainment, Episode 7, Friday Night Lights, Jack Donaghy, Janet Jopler, Janis Joplin, Liz Lemon, NBC, Nurse, Peter Dinklage, Season Three, Selma Hayek, Senor Macho Solo, Television, Tina Fey, Tracy Jordan, Tracy Morgan
January 8, 2009 · 7:51 pm
January 7th, 2009
If you are a fan of Friday Night Lights, “Underdogs” is going to be mightly familiar: as the Dillon Panthers head off to the State High School Football championships, there’s a quarterback having trouble keeping his focus on the field, there’s a road trip to the big game, and there’s a scene where Tami and Eric Taylor find their way to a balcony overlooking the city and remind us how starkly real their relationship really is.
As the episode title suggests, there are things that are different this time around, but “Underdogs” remains partially caught up in its own nostalgic tendencies towards the first season and its unquestionable quality. It’s not that this is entirely unjustified: as our characters begin to move onto the rest of their lives, they are nostalgic for the safety net that the Dillon Panthers have in many way provided just as the show is nostalgic for the days when it was nearly critic proof. But there comes a point where that nostalgia needs to break away, and when the cloud of the Dillon Panthers will peel away leaving behind a collection of confused eighteen year olds and a show that is facing a tough challenge to stay alive.
The message of the penultimate episode of perhaps the entire series comes from Tami Taylor, who tells her husband that, win or lose, the sun is going to shine the morning after. Before the big game is even done, “Underdogs” is able to emerge from the clouds primarily because of that hope of sorts: while the episode may lean heavily on existing patterns the series has dealt with before, it eventually uses that nostalgia in a way that feels organic for most of the show’s storylines.
So while it doesn’t quite excuse the show’s near season-long reliance on recycled storylines, “Underdogs” is a more effective episode because of it.
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Filed under Friday Night Lights
Tagged as Adrianne Palicki, Austin, DirecTV, Entertainment, Episode 12, Football, J.D. McCoy, Jeffrey Reiner, Jeremy Sumpter, Julie Taylor, Landry Clark, Lyla Garrity, Matt Saracen, Minka Kelly, NBC, Riggins, Season Three, State, Television, Texas, Tyra Colette, Underdogs
January 3, 2009 · 12:00 pm
“The Damage A Man Can Do”
Season Three, Episode Eight
Airdate: November 16th, 2008
In my review of the show’s third season finale, I tore into Dexter for missed potential, for failing to take advantage of its early season ideas and instead investigating something interesting but not compelling. This isn’t to say that the show’s decision to focus its attention on the relationship between Dexter and Miguel Prado (Jimmy Smits) was a poor one but rather that it felt like the story never fit the season in a way.
What it did provide, though, was a number of solid episodes that delved into the ramifications of their friendship. “The Damage a Man Can Do” is the most simple of these moments: not wrapped up in the show’s drive towards a conclusion, or in the show’s divided attention at the season’s opening, it answers the question of what could happen if Dexter Morgan had a partner, a friend who helped him with his dark secrets. The episode boils down Dexter’s dark passenger into a shopping list, and a series of disguises and actions that feels wonderfully scientific.
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Filed under 2008 Television Time Capsule
Tagged as 2008, Dexter, Dexter Morgan, Entertainment, Episode, Episode Eight, Jimmy Smits, Miguel Prado, Season Three, Showtime, Television, The Damage a Man Can Do, Time Capsule, Year in Review