Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Links, thoughts on Game of Thrones and The Killing, and why I watch Reality TV..

Lots to get to, so let's get to it...

- I'm aware that some of you actually like to read blogs that update more than once or twice a month like I do, so if you like pop culture, great writing, and (specifically) great writing ABOUT pop culture, here are some of the places that I go to every single day. These are the blogs that this blog wants to be one day when it grows up:

Cultural Learnings: Written by Myles McNutt, this is a place to find really intelligent, well-thought out musings on mostly TV, but also books, movies, and the general zeitgeist. Myles not only writes recaps of several shows, but he also has a lot to say about the business of television and the nature of television criticism.

The NPR Monkey See Blog: Maintained and edited by one of my very favorite online writers, Linda Holmes, formerly of Television Without Pity. Linda can write extremely thoughtful essays (like this one about some concerns voiced about the reading habits of young adults) or more lighthearted stuff (like this piece that examines the abundance of bodily function humor in the trailer for the new Jim Carrey movie). Either way, she is fantastic, as are most of the other writers on the site. Linda is also the host of one of my must-listen podcasts, the Pop Culture Happy Hour.

The A.V. Club: This is my daily stop for recaps/reviews of almost every show I watch, but you can also find reviews and news items on movies, music, and books. They also do fantastic special features (one of my favorites they have done is the Whatever Happened to Alternative Nation series), and their Great Job, Internet! section is the place to find cool stuff on the interwebs, the latest memes, etc. It's not always safe for work or family viewing, but it's always informative and entertaining. (Speaking of informative, entertaining, and not safe for work or family, if you are a fan of Community (and if you are not, I'm not sure we can be friends), be sure to check out the four part interview Todd VanDerWerff is posting with showrunner Dan Harmon. A fascinating look into the writing process).

EW.Com: If you are just looking for the latest entertainment news, you can't go wrong with the Entertainment Weekly website.

And, of course, for recaps/reviews/opinion, you can't beat Alan Sepinwall's What's Alan Watching blog, or the Tuned In blog at Time.com run by James Poniewozik.

Feel free to let me know what your "can't miss" sites are, whether they are pop culture, Dawg talk (most of my daily visits for Dawg news/opinion are in the list to the right), or whatever. Also...how many of you listen to podcasts? I have a list of those, too, but I wasn't sure how many of you listen to them. For someone like me who spends two and a half hours commuting every day, they are a necessity.

- While I am linking...we are now 88 days from kickoff (Happy Arthur Lynch Day)! Bubba 'n Earl always do the best job of putting together a countdown, and this year I think they have been outdoing themselves. Rather than just a player/moment countdown, they are posting a new post every day exploring different aspects of Bulldog history, the upcoming season, members of the team or coaching staff, etc...just really good stuff.

- I mentioned a while back when I was listing my favorite current comedies/dramas that I had a similar list of reality shows, and I was almost embarrassed by it. It got me thinking about why I watch the reality shows that I do watch, and I figured out that I only watch the ones that have a very specific draw for me. I don't watch any of the fame whore shows....Bachelor/Bachelorette, Jersey Shore, any thing with "of Love" or "Housewives" in the title. I don't watch any sort of "Celebrity" or "with the STARS" show.

Here is my list, broken down:

American Idol/So You Think You Can Dance: These two are by far my top ones, and I think it has everything to do with my background. I grew up a performing arts kid, so I really relate to the specific dreams that these contestants have, and I love getting to watch those dreams come true on my television set. I love the idea of these people being plucked out of obscurity and becoming superstars, even if only temporarily, based (mostly) on pure talent. The best example of this was Chris Daughtry. He was a stock boy at Best Buy, having given up on his dream of stardom in order to provide for his wife and her children, and then BAM...he's a multi-platinum selling artist, all because he decided to audition for Idol. Call me a softie if you want to, but I love those stories.

I also am a fan of excellence, in really any form, and that is the another main thing that draws me to So You Think You Can Dance. Even moreso than Idol, these people have worked YEARS and put literal blood, sweat, and tears into becoming EXCELLENT at what they do, and I appreciate excellence.

Which leads me to...

Top Chef: I am in no way a foodie. Most of the stuff prepared on this show will probably never appear on my plate. But the contestants are all obviously talented, they have worked for years on their craft, and best of all, they take being the best SERIOUSLY.

Deadliest Catch: I watch this show for pretty much one reason...awe. Well, that, and to be reminded how easy I have it in case I ever want to start complaining about my job. That aforementioned two and a half hour commute? Nothing, compared to 13 hour shifts in sub zero temperatures pulling thousand pound crab pots onto a boat being tossed by a Bering Sea storm. This show fascinates me.

Survivor/Amazing Race: I watch both of these shows, mainly because there are several bloggers/recappers on the web whose work I enjoy that recap this show. I watch the shows so that I can enjoy the recaps...that's pretty much it.

Those are the ones I watch regularly, but the other one that ropes me in every time I see it on television is Hoarders. I am fascinated by the psychological aspect of the show...and, also, it makes me feel better about myself.

- Two shows that have been occupying my Sunday DVR slots will be ending soon...one of them building to a fantastic finish, the other one I'm only watching out of obligation at this point.

The former of those two is Game of Thrones. As a HUGE fan of the books that the series will be based on, I was both excited and mildly terrified to see how the series was going to turn out. For the most part I have not been disappointed, although I think I might be enjoying the show even more if I weren't so familiar with the source material. I can't stop myself from comparing what's on the screen to what was in the book, which means I am basically comparing it to images I have in my head. No film adaptation of a book is ever going to match up to our own imagination, and no adaptation will ever be able to go into the amount of detail and backstory that George R.R. Martin pours into virtually every page of his writing. One of my favorite aspects of the books is the rich and complete world that Martin has created, complete with its own customs, history, etc., and there is just not enough time on a television show to depict a universe that dense.

Having said all of that...this show is AWESOME. The first three or four episodes were very exposition-filled, and a little too much "tell-don't-show" for me, but now that the story has kicked into high gear it's been a fantastic ride.

To me, the show isn't quite to the pantheon level of my All Time Great TV list (which includes The Wire, Deadwood, LOST, Mad Men, Breaking Bad, and Sopranos), for a couple of reasons. Number one, the writing just isn't up to that level...it's good, but not great, and it can be pretty dry and humorless at times. Just about every show in that list dealt with some really dark or heavy material, but they found a way to inject humor, often when you least expect it. We're getting some of that here, mostly from Tyrion or Littlefinger...but it's still pretty dry.

The other issue is the larger one, in my opinion...the story that these books tell is brilliantly plotted and complex, and the show is doing the best it can to tell it effectively. For the most part, it succeeds...it's telling a great story. But the problem has been that there is so much plot that it leaves little time for any sort of character development. What makes a show truly special, rather than just great, is not just what happens...it's that you care about the characters that the story is happening to. Game of Thrones isn't quite there yet, in my opinion.

And if you are watching the show and haven't read the books, I'm not going to spoil anything...but buckle your seatbelts. The ride only gets bumpier from here.

As for the other show wrapping up its Sunday night run....well, let's talk about The Killing. This is a show that, for me, started with a lot of promise, but just hasn't lived up to that promise. To me, the show got into a very annoying cycle of "Oh, he's the killer!.....wait, no he's not....oh, it's DEFINITELY her...oh, never mind", to the point where I feel like we are just spinning our wheels waiting to get to the end. I mean, it can't be good that this past week's episode, which barely even touched the Rosie Larsen case AT ALL, was probably my favorite one of the season.

Like most AMC shows, The Killing keeps to its own pace, and that pace....is....slow. But I don't mind that, when it's done well (Mad Men, for example). But this feels like about five episodes of story stretched out over a twelve episode season. We spent at least four episodes examining Bennet Ahmed, and that turned out to be....nothing whatsoever.

It's still pretty well acted, and I have stuck around for the first ten episodes, so I might as well hang on until the end to see the resolution. But I am not that excited about it, and if it doesn't get a second season I won't be disappointed.

- OK, wrapping this thing up now. But let me throw one more plug at you before I go. Starting next Saturday night, BBC America is re-running the entire series of Battlestar Galactica. Even if you aren't normally a fan of sci-fi TV, you owe it to yourself to watch if you want to see one of the greatest shows produced in the last decade. Don't let anything you have heard about the ending scare you away...trust me, it's worth it.


Shan said...

Thoughts on your thoughts:

I agree with your blog choices, though the writing quality (and entertainment value of said writing) can vary wildly. McNutt can make interesting points, but boy, does he overwrite (something a few AV Club writers are guilty of as well). I don't object to lengthy pieces; I just get bored when the same points are made over and over again, and the sentences are so long and tortured you want to scream "ON WITH IT!" For my money, Noel Murray is the best TV writer out there (along with Sepinwall). He almost always gets it, his prose is clean and crisp, his opinions are backed up, and he doesn't confuse "quality" with "quantity." (And I thought that before I found out he went to UGA, too).

I've tried the reality shows (even the ones you reference), and we'll just have to agree to disagree. I don't watch anything unscripted except for Mythbusters (and news and sports, of course). If I'm going to watch manufactured drama, conflict and pathos, I want it MANUFACTURED in a high end factory.

You inspired me to read the GoT books, and I'm so glad you did. About 75% of the way through the 2nd, and they are all they're cracked up to be. And the show is just fantastic. I don't know that they can ever approach the scope and depth of character that is in the books, given all they are trying to do and the 10 hours they have to do it in. I would already put it in my Pantheon, but that would be the "love" wing and not the "appreciate" wing. Sometimes they overlap (like with Breaking Bad, Firefly, Mad Men, BSG, Buffy and Lost) and sometimes they don't (like with The Wire, which I appreciate as the pinnacle of what TV can achieve as a medium, but which I don't have a great desire to rewatch over and over again).

As for The Killing, I tweeted a link to a Salon article last week that pretty much summed up what I thought (in short: boring, huge missed opportunity, great performances, dismal plotting), but I agree with you that last week's was sensational. I could have watched another hour of Linden and Holder driving around in the rain smoking no problem.

Scott said...

I sort of agree with you on McNutt...but I still read everything he puts out. And I love Murray's stuff, too.

Glad you are loving the Ice and Fire books...can't wait for you to get to the next one. Storm of Swords is probably my favorite fiction book of all time.

Shan said...

I was thinking about taking a GRRM break after this one to read the ESPN book, or a short, simple murder mystery. But your high praise for the next one (favorite fiction EVER?) has tempted me. I've been catching a chapter or two during a smoke break or getting a haircut, but I may devote some time this weekend to knocking it out and see where i stand then.

Game of Thrones review said...

I totally agree with what you said "No film adaptation of a book is ever going to match up to our own imagination,..."
I wrote a small review about Book Vs. HBO version: http://www.gameofthronesreview.com/a-game-of-thrones-book-vs-hbo/
If you have any comments feel free to comment on it.