Category: television

In Defense of Franchises: From Star Wars to Game of Thrones

I’ve been watching the fallout to the final season of Game of Thrones with no small amount of interest. It’s been fascinating to see how virulent the response has been from some quarters, including fans signing a petition for HBO to re-do the season(!) Yes, I realize many just view that as a way of showing their displeasure with the end of the show, but it’s still a strange way of expressing that, and it’s in line with fan response to other popular franchises like LotR/Hobbit, Star Wars, Marvel, etc.

One thing I really dislike these days is the trend of fans making up their mind on a show or a movie and then declaring it “good” or “bad.” To me, this is something that began with the Star Wars prequels, where there was this huge pent up demand for the movies, and then when they arrived, they were different than what fans thought they should be, and therefore bad. I fell for that the first time around, agreeing with many that the prequels were a travesty. But as time has gone on, and I’ve seen that same pattern repeated again and again, I’m not really falling for it anymore.

What’s the pattern? Easy. Take any popular show or film franchise. It has to reach a critical mass where there’s enough fans of the show to really be whipped into a furor. It’s also key that this show/franchise be lasting for at least a decade or more, since it takes that amount of time for fans to really conglomerate around various ideas. Build up expectations in the franchise until those expectations take on a life of their own. Then come out with actual films and television episodes and watch the inevitable fallout.

Fans are disappointed. Fans are enraged. The show was ruined. The movie destroyed everything they held dear. The director dropped the ball. The writers are incompetent. And never mind the fact that it’s the same creative team around the show or franchise. Fans start passing out the pitchforks and torches, and then they gang up on anyone who might go against their new canonical opinion of the work in question.

Don’t get me wrong. I 100% believe in the right of the audience to evaluate a show. Anyone who tells me they dislike the Hobbit movies or the end of Game of Thrones or The Last Jedi is totally entitled to that, and they can use whatever reasons they want. True, I might disagree with those reasons, but if someone reads a book and says “this character bored me” or “I didn’t think the ending was believable,” there’s no way to tell them they’re wrong. You can’t be wrong about being bored. You either are or you aren’t, and you’re the expert. (You can suffer from bad taste, of course, but that’s a different debate.)

What I dislike is when fans start to groupthink a franchise to death. They all get into an echo chamber and start reassuring themselves they’re all right. They reinforce their opinions until they’re etched in stone. So you still have the popular opinion that Lost blew its finale. Indiana Jones 4 was awful. The Last Jedi was done in by Social Justice Warriors. The Hobbit trilogy was a complete mess. And there are plenty of articles and videos produced to reassure anyone that opinion is the right opinion.

For the record, I enjoyed the Lost finale, had a great time through all three Hobbit movies, didn’t love Indy 4, and thought The Last Jedi was excellent. I also think this final season of Game of Thrones has been fantastic. (More on that in a moment. I promise.)

I think many of these franchises get to the point where a stunning, perfect finish that’s universally acclaimed is no longer possible. They just have too much weight to carry. With Game of Thrones, think of the thousands and thousands of hours fans have poured into the show, developing theories about what might happen, picking apart character motivations and tiny details that might have far reaching implications. Spending years building up love for certain characters and hate for others.

How can anything possibly live up to all of that? Especially in the heat of the moment. When you watch a show after the fact, all at once, you get a different feel for it. And many of the shows these days are designed to be binge watched. Last week’s Game of Thrones destruction fest felt absolutely brutal, but that was because we couldn’t just immediately move on to this week’s finale, which provided context for it. Take away that week’s worth of debate and discussion, and you completely change the response to the following episode.

Fans are now saying the show runners rushed the ending of the series. That it should have been three complete seasons. That the things that happened could have still happened, if only the show had taken its time to develop all of them adequately. Personally, I think what they’re noticing is a big part of the reason why George RR Martin has been unable to even write another book of the series, let alone finish it.

It’s always easier to spin out more plot lines. To complicate matters more. To answer questions with more questions. To deepen the intrigue and the mystery. But each time you do that, speaking as a writer now, you dig yourself a little deeper. Coming up with a way out of all those plot lines with something approaching a satisfying conclusion snowballs out of control, until the sheer weight of expectations leave you breathless and unable to continue.

Martin wants to be done with the series in 2-3 more books. I don’t think it’s possible to pull that off in a satisfying way. Because remember, the books are even more complex than the show.

Was the final season rushed? Certainly from a logistical standpoint. Where before, it would take weeks to travel anywhere in Westeros, by the last few seasons, people were zipping back and forth between locations at light speed. But from a stance of telling the story they wanted to tell, I think the creators did a great job.

I went into last night’s episode with no clue how they’d manage to pull off an ending I would be satisfied with. (For the record, I was fine with the Mad Queen storyline, because I found it totally in line with what Dany has been doing all along. Burninating the countryside. Burninating the peasants. The only difference between Meereen and King’s Landing (beyond sheer scale of destruction) was the fact that we were more familiar with King’s Landing, so the impact was more immediate and harder to ignore. (And as for scale, she’d been upping her desire to burninate ever since she came to Westeros. King’s Landing Dany was Dany Unleashed.)

But they pulled it off. The jump forward in time was a fantastic move, allowing them to complete the story without showing what really would have been unnecessary fluff at this point. There’s no need to show Gray Worm capturing John and then almost killing him, before being talked down by someone or convinced by someone else to hold off. I mean, sure, you could have done that, but that’s answering a question with another question. At some point, you need to just give answers.

Perhaps that’s why some are so upset about these shows. They love the questions, and so they hate when the ultimate answers are finally given, and they don’t match up with everything they’ve imagined might be the answer. What I loved about Game of Thrones was the fact that any character was fair game. Plot arcs might not be the plot arcs you assumed they were. No one was tied to any one destiny. From Ned’s beheading to the Red Wedding to King’s Landing’s destruction, it was all on the table, all the time, and it made for some exhilarating watching.

The show’s ending was great. It caps off a wonderful series. Not the best series I’ve ever watched. (That’s still The Wire.) But still an easy top 5. Just an incredible piece of work, and no amount of fan petitions are going to convince me otherwise. (That’s okay. I’m sure my post won’t convince them either.) If you don’t like a franchise, fine. But no need to scour the internet to band together and start petitioning for a rewrite. If you want to do something better, go do it.

I could go on for much longer, but I’m out of time. If you have specific comments or questions, I’m happy to answer them as they come up.

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

Yes, I’ve Seen Russian Doll

As a staunch Groundhog Day fan, I think I had at least three different people recommend Russian Doll to me the moment it came out on Netflix. For those of you who might not have heard about it, it’s a time-loop series. A woman starts off at a party and then keeps coming back to that same party over and over and over again.

Post Groundhog Day, this is actually a plot that’s been coming up more and more in movies and television, and I have a soft spot for them. It’s always interesting to me to see how each different story handles it. How they put their individual spin on it. So it’s no real surprise that people thought of me as soon as they hear about the show. And so as soon as I finished The Americans, I turned to Russian Doll.

First, a disclaimer. It’s a foul mouthed show. F bombs are as plentiful as pronouns at times. So this is most definitely Not a Show for Everyone.

Which is a real shame, because it’s a fascinating show with a great mystery at its heart. Great acting and writing. Complex characters that start off as insanely unlikable and somehow turn into people we’re really honestly rooting for. And the language adds literally nothing to anything. Yes, you could argue it helps define who the main character is, but there are so many ways you can show someone’s gruff and uncaring without having them spew profanity with each breath. It’s a sloppy, weak crutch in my book, and I think the show would have been much better without it. Or at least without as much of it. I like salt as much as the next guy, but I don’t throw the whole shaker in.

If you can get past that, as I say, there’s a lot in the show that will appeal to you. Overall, it’s put together well, and the ending doesn’t disappoint. I don’t want to say too much about it, since so much of the show runs on mystery. Just don’t go in expecting answers right away. You’re supposed to be confused and asking yourself a lot of questions. That’s okay. They do eventually get answered. (It’s always nice to know that going in, just so you can have some faith in the show.)

Is it my favorite time loop movie (other than Groundhog Day)? Well, no. Edge of Tomorrow, Looper, FAQ about Time Travel, and Primer come to mind right off. (I have yet to see Happy Death Day. It’s on my list, though!) But this is one of the better ones. Overall, I gave it an 8/10. I just wish I could recommend it more widely than I can . . .

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve been posting my book ICHABOD in installments, as well as chapters from UTOPIA. Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.



Television Review: The Americans

The concept is pretty straightforward: a Russian couple is trained to be super spies. They lose their accents, learn American ways, and move to the country in the late 1960s. Fast forward to the early 1980s. They’ve got a couple of kids, run a successful travel agency, and they’re still doing top secret missions for the Russians.

And then they get a new next door neighbor: an FBI agent who works in counterintelligence.

Honestly, the tack on neighbor was one item with the premise that I felt might be taking it all too far, jumping off into soap opera territory. But I’d heard good things about the show, and I wanted to give it a shot. We’re now in the sixth and final season, and I’m officially willing to give this show a full recommendation.

What’s good about it?

  • Well, the premise is pretty solid to begin with, but the show really uses it to its full extent. The kids of the spies, for example, are full Americans. They have no idea their parents are Russian. That generates drama, especially as the kids get older and start to wonder what exactly it is their parents do at a travel agency that necessitates them leaving in the middle of the night so often.
  • The historical details of the show are well executed, as well. It’s not nearly as “in your face” as Stranger Things, but you get a really strong 80s vibe throughout the show, and I enjoy that
  • The acting is really well done across the board. Eminently watchable.
  • The plots are, for the most part, great. This is a show that was weaker at the beginning but grew into something very strong. The premise for this final season is absolutely fantastic (no spoilers), and it’s only possible because of how much we’ve already invested into the characters. If they nail the landing on this season, then the entire series will be elevated even higher in my book. (And from what I’ve heard, it does.)

What’s bad about it?

  • Like I said, the early seasons weren’t as good. The show was still trying to find its way somewhat. It’s not that they were bad, but I only gave them a 7/10, if that makes sense. I gave season 5 an 8.5.
  • There’s occasional scenes of very brutal violence. Sometimes gory. Sometimes just plain disgusting. It’s also got a few sex scenes sprinkled throughout, and fairly frequent rear nudity. (Never frontal.) I don’t recall there being issues with bad language, however. (Just trying to cover the bases of what people might object to in the show.)
  • Some episodes are more . . . deliberate than others. Sometimes the big plot streaks forward. Sometimes it plods.

But really, if you’re looking for espionage, the 80s, and family drama, or even just one of those, then this is a good show to check out. It’s been nominated for an Emmy for Best Drama twice, and the entire season is available to stream on Amazon Prime.

Already seen it? What did you think? Have any questions? Ask away.

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve been posting my book ICHABOD in installments, as well as chapters from UTOPIA. Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

Choosing Television Shows to Watch

It’s always a big debate. You find a show you like, and it’s all fun and games while it lasts. But sooner or later the show comes to an end, and you’ve got to find something else to watch. And let’s face it; it’s not like tv shows are being made at a rate that keeps up with the rate we can binge them. Not good ones, at least. When you finish watching an excellent series, you don’t want to leave it and go to something that’s just sort of okay. You want something excellent.

So I’ve taken some time to try and get a list of shows I want to watch, so I can have one ready the next time I finish a series. (We’re currently working our way through The Americans, which I mostly really enjoy. It seems to be getting progressively better, which helps a lot as well.) To try and see what I’ve been missing, I went through all the shows that were nominated for an Emmy for Best Drama from 1990 to today. It was an interesting look into some TV history I hadn’t always paid much attention to.

You see certain patterns develop. Some shows lodge themselves into the nominations and just don’t let up. Game of Thrones. Mad Men. Downton Abbey. But beyond that, the type of show has changed and evolved over the years. At first I’d planned on going much further back than 1990, but the shows that were getting nominations in the 90s were already ones I’m not too interested in bingeing today.

Compare some of the popular shows (nomination-wise) of the last few years with the ones in the 90s. Today we have Westworld, Game of Thrones, Stranger Things, and more. In the 90s it was shows like Law & Order, NYPD Blue, and ER. I haven’t seen the latter two, but I’ve seen my fair share of Law & Order. It’s a show that worked well when you were just watching it once a week, but I’m not sure how much I want to try bingeing a show like that.

As I looked through the shows, I realized I don’t just want a drama. I want a drama with a long, sweeping arc. With real character development over time and intersecting stories as one of the prime features of the show. Then again, I loved West Wing, and it was a great show to binge, and it was much more a “flavor of the week” show, where each episode generally dealt with something specific.

I suppose the trick is I’m never quite sure what I’ll think of a show until I’m in the middle of it. The other trick is that you can’t really compare a show you’ve just finished multiple seasons of to a show you’re just starting on. Of course the characters aren’t as deep and ingrained with you yet. They haven’t had time to really develop. The same is often true of the first season of a show. It can take time for it to really get its feet under it, even though that might be frustrating for the first while of a show.

One other thing I noticed is how some excellent shows just don’t get recognized at all. (Note the complete lack of a single nomination for the Wire. That’s just criminal.)

Anyway. I thought I’d share my findings with you, in case it’s useful for others. After going through the exercise, a few shows I’m eyeing next are The Handmaid’s Tale and a return to Breaking Bad. We’ll see what I actually go to.

Show NameBest Drama NominationsBest Drama Wins
Westworld20
This Is Us20
Stranger Things20
Handmaid’s Tale21
Crown20
Americans20
Game of Thrones73
House of Cards50
Better Call Saul30
Mr. Robot10
Homeland41
Downton Abbey50
Orange is the New Black10
Mad Men84
True Detective10
Breaking Bad52
Boardwalk Empire20
Good Wife20
Friday Night Lights10
Dexter40
True Blood10
Lost41
House40
Damages20
Big Love10
Boston Legal20
Heroes10
Grey’s Anatomy20
Sopranos72
West Wing74
2451
Six Feet Under30
Deadwood10
Joan of Arcadia10
CSI30
Law & Order111
Practice42
ER71
NYPD Blue61
X-Files40
Chicago Hope30
Star Trek TNG10
Northern Exposure41
Picket Fences22
I’ll Fly Away20
Homefront10
Quantum Leap30
LA Law32
Thirtysomething20
China Beach20
Twin Peaks10

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve been posting my book ICHABOD in installments, as well as chapters from UTOPIA. Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

Television Review: The Good Place: Season One

I had heard a bit about The Good Place, all of it positive, but there are so many things to watch these days, and time is in short supply. However, Denisa and I had just finished watching a series, and I’d just seen Ted Danson nominated for an Emmy for his work on the show, so when it popped up on Netflix, we decided to give it a shot.

If you don’t know, the premise is that a decidedly less-than-good person (Kristen Bell) ends up in heaven by mistake. (Heaven, in this case, is people almost solely by folks who were all extremely good. Like, saved millions of lives, found the cure for cancer, etc.) She has to try to pretend to be good, so that no one catches on to the fact that she really should have ended up in the Bad Place, instead.

It’s a fast paced comedy, with short episodes and an actual big overarching story arc. It’s also fairly clean, with no bad language or nudity, though there are some adult-oriented jokes now and then. (Well, I suppose there’s technically bad language, but you’re not able to swear in heaven, so it all gets turned into something else. “Fork,” “Shirt,” etc.) Denisa and I blazed through the first season, often watching more than we had time to watch, which is always a surefire sign that the show is great. It’s inventive, unpredictable, and quirky.

Overall, I think I’d give the season a 9/10. There were a few parts where it might have dragged a little, but all in all, it was a fantastic 13 episodes. I can’t wait to watch the second season and see where they take it next. If you’re looking for some lighthearted fun, I encourage you to give it a shot.

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve been posting my book ICHABOD in installments, as well as chapters from UTOPIA. Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

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