Friday, September 20, 2013

Otter's 2013 Emmy Predictions - Comedy

I’m swamped with work this week, so naturally I decided it would be a great idea to write a post predicting the comedy Emmy winners that almost no one will read. Here we go…

Best Comedy Series
30 Rock
The Big Bang Theory
Modern Family

Who Should Win: I’d make a case for Parks and Rec here, but I’ve decided to limit myself to shows that were actually nominated. 30 Rock had an incredible goodbye, hitting comedic heights I haven’t seen since season 3. It’s always been one of the best shows on TV, and it definitely deserves an Emmy on its way out.

Who Will Win: Modern Family, but that routine is getting old. I’m guessing this will be its last win for a while.

Actor in a Leading Role
Alec Baldwin as Jack Donaghy on 30 Rock
Jason Bateman as Michael Bluth on Arrested Development
Louie C.K. as Louie on Louie
Don Cheadle as Marty Kaan on House of Lies 
Matt LeBlanc as Himself on Episodes 
Jim Parsons as Dr. Sheldon Cooper on The Big Bang Theory 

Who Should Win: Alec Baldwin. 30 Rock would have been a complete mess without his hilarious performance as right-wing Jack. His acting made the Jack and Liz relationship a solid foundation for the show throughout its stellar run.

Who Will Win: Louie is way too experimental for an Emmy, so CK could get the Best Actor as a consolation prize. I’m still going with Baldwin: Emmy voters love rewarding movie actors who do TV.

Actress in a Leading Role
Laura Dern as Amy Jellicoe on Enlightened
Lena Dunham as Hannah Horvath on Girls
Edie Falco as Jackie Peyton on Nurse Jackie
Tina Fey as Liz Lemon on 30 Rock
Julia Louis-Dreyfus as Selina Meyer on Veep
Amy Poehler as Leslie Knope on Parks and Recreation

Who Should Win: Amy Poehler deserves this on so many counts. She turned in another incredible performance this year, but it’s truly ridiculous that one of the most influential comedians working has never won an Emmy.

Who Will Win: I’m listening to my heart and going with Amy Poehler. She seems well-liked in the industry, especially after her great job co-hosting the Golden Globes. A win for her could be a sort of apology for not nominating Parks and Rec. I wouldn’t be surprised if it went to Tina Fey (also co-hosted the Golden Globes) or Julia Louis-Dreyfus (wonderful, but it’s really someone else’s turn.)

Actor in a Supporting Role
Ty Burrell as Phil Dunphy on Modern Family
Adam Driver as Adam Sackler on Girls
Jesse Tyler Ferguson as Mitchell Pritchett on Modern Family
Bill Hader as Various Characters on Saturday Night Live
Tony Hale as Gary Walsh on Veep
Ed O'Neill as Jay Pritchett on Modern Family

Who Should Win: Bill Hader on the merits of Stefon’s wedding alone.

Who Will Win: Modern Family has this locked up until the end of time. This year it will probably be Ty Burrell, although I would like to see Jesse Tyler Ferguson win!

Actress in a Supporting Role
Mayim Bialik as Dr. Amy Farrah Fowler on The Big Bang Theory
Julie Bowen as Claire Dunphy on Modern Family
Anna Chlumsky as Amy Brookheimer on Veep
Jane Krakowski as Jenna Maroney on 30 Rock
Jane Lynch as Sue Sylvester on Glee
Sofía Vergara as Gloria Delgado-Pritchett on Modern Family
Merritt Wever as Zoey Barkow on Nurse Jackie

Who Should Win: Jane Krakowski has only gotten better as Jenna, and some of the character’s best moments were showcased during this season. It’s definitely her time.

Who Will Win: The Emmy’s do like 30 Rock, so Krakowski has a good chance. Still, I wouldn’t be surprised if Julie Bowen won again.

I don’t watch enough of the dramas to have any insights, but it’s ridiculous that Jon Hamm has never won an Emmy. Let’s fix that this year, shall we?

Sunday, September 1, 2013

GoT Blog Update

Dear friends,

Thanks for joining us through the ups and downs of Season 1 of Game of Thrones. Unfortunately, we must announce that we are going to take an indefinite hiatus now that the new school year is upon us. We might end up continuing with our episode reviews again in the future, but... who really knows.

As always, there will probably be the occasional post on awards show predictions, round-ups, reviews, tributes, complaints, etc., so do stick around!

Saurus (& Otter)

Sunday, August 25, 2013

GoT Review: 1x10

Season 1, Episode 10: “Fire and Blood”

I: Let’s start with the most exciting development: DRAGONS! At first, I was ready to write off the fiery lil’ babies as a tired fantasy trope: introduce plot-advancing salvation out of nowhere and chalk it up to “magic.” (Why, hello there, sword of Gryffindor!) Upon more reflection, it’s pretty clear the series was building up to this moment. For one thing, Dany’s dead son was described as scaly and winged. There have been frequent references to the “last dragon,” and Daenerys has been experimenting with her eggs and fire for awhile (at least in the book). I thought she was being metaphorical when she said “Fire cannot kill a dragon” after Superblonde’s crowning. As the AV Club pointed out, this statement has turned out to be pretty literal. I’ll be excited to see how Daenerys’s more merciful side meshes with her ambition. If you try to take over a kingdom, destruction and physical/sexual violence are pretty much inevitable.

Dragon battles are an awesomely terrifying possibility, but King Joffrey has much more than that to worry about. There’s also the threat of the two Baratheon brothers and “the king in the north.” Michelle Fairley did a great job portraying Catelyn’s internal conflict between her maternal concern for Robb and her desire for vengeance. It looks like we’ve been set up for a good war next season, and that’s not even considering the threats north of the wall. I’m hoping Arya makes it up there to be reunited with Jon, but I wouldn’t be surprised if either of them is killed off. One of the best things about this show is that no one is truly safe, which makes it suspenseful from week to week.

Finally, a quibble: What was the point of the scene with the old advisor and the prostitute?! It didn’t reveal anything we didn’t already know (the advisors are good at protecting their own interests, GoT likes naked girls, etc., etc.) I would have loved to see more of Jon’s moral dilemmas, or Daenerys’s reaction to her personal reenactment of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. The first book was full of great material, and there’s no reason to skimp on storylines if it can be avoided. Still, this was a pretty great season of TV, and I’m sure most of it was just set-up for even more exciting things to come.

D: Excuse me, sexual violence is NOT inevitable! Daenerys saw to that herself- although, as the witch pointed out, she didn’t exactly “save” the women in time. This was such a heartbreaking episode, with really powerful performances from all the affected actors/characters. I don’t know what moved me most: Sansa’s visibly wrecked face (Joffrey: “You look nice today”), Catelyn’s emotionless walk through the camp, Robb’s hysterical tree thrashing, or Daenerys’s quiet realization that she’s lost everything almost overnight. But hey, now she gets to be the girl on fire! The girl with the dragon t...trio! And she’ll have to learn how to train her dragon(s)! Okay, I’m done now.

As I predicted earlier, Sansa and Robb are going through quite a journey. I think we’ll enjoy getting to know the new, smarter Sansa. I mean, her retort about Joffrey’s head on a pike was pretty amazing, even if she got slapped for it. (It would've been too easy if she could've just pushed him to his death, huh?) Likewise, when Greatjon started advocating for self-governance, Robb looked pretty shocked and overwhelmed, like he wasn’t sure what he’d just gotten himself into: “Uh… did I just become a king?” On the other hand, things aren’t going so smoothly for the Lannisters for once. Yeah, Starks! During the brief exchange between father and son, Tyrion looked so pleasantly surprised that Tywin acknowledged his intelligence and called him his “son.”  He’s always so glib and cynical but it's evident he just wants his old man’s approval.

Next season, I’m most looking forward to: Orphan ‘Arry (Little Orphan Annie + Harry Potter); more ridiculously intricate braided hairstyles; dragon fun; and more of Cersei and Jaime. We don’t know much about “The Kingslayer” but he seems like an interesting dude. By not admitting why he pushed Bran out of the tower, he shows that he knows his incestuous relationship with his sister is wrong, in contrast with Cersei who so proudly confessed their love to Ned. Clearly, he’s more grounded than her, but who is he, really? Least excited: all the prostitute "plotlines" and the wights, wildings, White Walkers, and everything at the Wall that takes us away from the war. Even Sam’s Neville Longbottom-like antics (“You can’t go out! I’ll- I’ll fight you!”) can’t save this gloomy storyline.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

GoT Review: 1x09

Season 1, Episode 09: “Baelor"

I: Thanks to the internet, I knew that Ned would die at the end of this episode. I still spent the last five minutes screaming and cursing out Sansa, Joffrey, and pretty much everyone else involved in this horrible event. The TV show has been very loyal to the books so far, but it was still a very gutsy move to kill the show’s ostensible protagonist. This episode settled something I’ve been wondering about for a while: Is Joffrey completely under his mother’s thumb? The answer is a worrisome “no.” I’d thought of Cersei as the show’s puppet-master villain, but I’ll definitely be watching out for Joffrey, too. Hopefully Ned didn’t die entirely in vain. His admittance may grant Arya and Sansa kinder treatment at the Lannisters’ hands. As Maester Aemon put it, “Love is the death of duty.”

Last episode, I questioned Robb’s decision to let the spy go. Luckily, it seems to have paid off for the Starks. I was genuinely shocked when Robb showed up with Jaime as his prisoner. Robb is forced to make an ethical decision as well: Should he sacrifice himself to prevent more of his soldiers dying? He decides to keep Jaime as his prisoner. I think this is the right choice. I highly doubt the Lannisters would be kind to the Winterfell army even if Jaime killed Robb. Besides, Robb also has to worry about his and Arya’s betrothals to the Freys. (Fun fact: The guy who plays Walder Frey was Filch in Harry Potter!) I’m beginning to understand why infidelity is so rampant in Westeros: Everyone’s married off to people they have no interest in. Although both Robb and Arya are pawns, it’s still a pretty sexist system. He at least gets to make a decision about his betrothal, while Arya has no input into her fate. Also, no one would judge Robb for picking up a mistress or two, but Arya would immediately be ostracized if she committed adultery.

Finally, this episode introduced my new favorite game: Make drunken acquaintances admit depressing secrets!
“It’s fun. Look at the fun we’re having.”
I’m going to start saying this every time I get bored at a party.

D: Bye bye, Ned. I figured it'd happen sooner or later but it was still terrible and heartbreaking to watch, especially through the eyes of his daughters. The dichotomy between Sansa and Arya was striking, with the elegantly groomed Sansa standing by the queen and a grimy, hungry Arya hiding among the rabble, but at the end of the scene, both of course showed the same reaction to their father’s decapitation. Where will they go from here? Arya has no money, no food, no guardian, and no shelter, yet in her exposure she is safer than Sansa, who remains under the watchful eye of Cersei and Joffrey. Now that King Robert and Ned are both dead and Robb and Catelyn have committed treason, Joffrey has no reason to keep Sansa as a fiancée. There’s certainly no affection on his part. I honestly don’t think he's capable of loving anything or anyone, not even his fawning mother. And I agree with you, Irene: I don’t think Cersei has a complete hold over him. Five bucks says Joffrey yells something along the lines of “I’M the king; don’t tell me what to do!” at his mother in the next episode.

Switching gears: the plotline with Khal Drogo’s festering wound definitely came out of nowhere. Last episode, he shrugged his injury off (“Meh, papercut”) and now he’s suddenly on his deathbed! With Westeros at war, it would’ve been a perfect time for Dany, Drogo, and the Dothraki- The Triple D’s: that could be the name of their alt rock garage band- to swoop in, but it looks like that won’t be happening. Didn’t Arya overhear Varys and that bearded Illyrio guy talk in the Red Keep about how they wanted a civil war for that very reason? Hmm. So is Varys a Targaryen ally? That could explain why he told Ned he serves “the realm” in the last episode, if he thinks the Targaryens are the true Protectors of the Realm. Gah!! This show is so mysterious and confusing- I want answers!!

Sunday, August 11, 2013

GoT Review: 1x08

Season 1, Episode 08: “The Pointy End”
I: Doris, I definitely agree with your assessment of the Dothraki, and this episode only supports your arguments. Dany’s been assimilating pretty well, but this week she takes on the role of the “bewildered other” and takes a pretty awesome feminist stance on behalf of the women. I’m well aware that the Dothraki’s rape-and-pillage routine was common play in the Middle Ages, but it could be better developed. The only Dothraki character of note is Khal Drogo, who continues his whole “shout impressively and rip out tongues” routine this week. I just started reading the first book, where each chapter is narrated by a different character. I’ll be interested to see if Drogo gets a chapter, but I’m not holding my breath.

After a long absence, Robb and the youngest Starks popped up again this week. Seeing Robb and his mother reunite made me realize how much Tully there is in him. Both are fiercely loyal to their families and make rash decisions to avenge any hurts to their kin. Catelyn’s support of Rob’s battle made me realize what a bad idea this is. Robb also has a lot of his father in him, as he tries to live up to his code of honor. Letting the spy go may have been the right thing to do, but it’s as politically foolish as most of Ned’s decisions. I’m still mulling over what Varys said to Ned: “It was your mercy that killed the king.” I have no idea if Varys can be trusted (what else is new?) but there is some truth to these words. Ned is too good of a man to save anyone in King’s Landing, especially himself.
In other Stark news, Sansa is showing a surprising amount of family loyalty, and Arya has completed her first kill. The episode doesn’t return to her after she runs off, so I’m hoping that she’s okay. Maybe she’ll make it across the sea and team up with Dany so they can have their own show together. It can air after my imaginary Mad Men spinoff, The Joan and Peggy Show. 

D: There’s something about Westeros that makes kids grow up very, very quickly- well, everyone other than that creepy Robin kid who’s still suckling. At least Joffrey gets to be king; the Stark children are scattered across the country without their parents, and each one appears to be in his or her own sticky situation. Leaving out Jon and the Inferi wights for now: Robb is about to lead his bannermen into war, Sansa is being held captive by the ruling Lannisters, Arya is on the run, and who the heck is even taking care of Bran and Rickon?? That naked guy? [Quick tangent: contemplating the Stark family tree is making me think twice about Jon’s origins. Irene and I have both talked at length about how irritating good and noble Ned is- would a man so morally upright really cheat on his wife, even in the midst of war? Seems questionable.]

As much as I love Arya, I think it will be most interesting to see how the oldest son and daughter of the family develop in these troubled times. With Ned locked away, Robb is the “man of the house,” in terms of the physical home, the symbolic family unit, and the larger ancestral clan. Meanwhile, with Catelyn pretty much ineffectual for whatever reason, Sansa carries the burden of protecting the family. (And yes, that does create an interesting dichotomy of house vs. family along gendered lines, which I will have to explore another time.) Neither one is a character whom we’ve seen much of yet, but in light of Ned’s precarious state, they- and Robb especially- will have to step up and become the leaders they’ve been raised to be. This is not just true for the characters, but the actors as well. Just as Robb is disparaged as being too “green” to lead his troops, Richard Madden may have a hard time filling Sean Bean’s metaphorically huge leading-man shoes when Ned inevitably dies.
Father & son: a shared affinity for facial hair, furs, and foolishness
Yes, he’s got the scruff (which, fun fact, recent scientific research suggests is most attractive, to which we all say a resounding "duh"), but will he have the same screen presence that the great Boromir commands? Will we still sympathize with the Starks, even when the Lannisters seem more compelling? We’ll have to wait and see!

Sunday, August 4, 2013

GoT Review: 1x07

Season 1, Episode 07: “You Win or You Die”

I: Well, there’s an accurate title. The Lannisters have just won a throne, and everyone else is dead or in very severe danger. We bid farewell to the king this week, who died as drunkenly he lived. As Ned put it, “No man could have protected him from himself.” For a man on the brink of death, Baratheon seemed more relieved than sad. Maybe he didn’t understand how fragmented the kingdom is, which would explain why he voluntarily puts Ned in such a perilous position. There’s also the factor that makes Ned different from everyone else: he’s the only person who prioritizes the kingdom’s well-being over gaining power. Unfortunately, things aren’t going well for Ned. Littlefinger is still hung up on his youthful love of Catelyn and betrays Ned in an action that is simultaneously shocking and completely predictable. I was hoping Littlefinger would be more of a Severus Snape type, but honor is in short supply in Westeros.

As if the Lannister-Stark conflict wasn’t enough, we’ve got the Dothraki planning to cross the sea and wage war. Daenerys is clearly figuring out how to manipulate the smitten Khal Drogo. It’s amazing to think how far she’s come since they were first married. I’m wondering if everything’s okay with her pregnancy since she hasn’t started showing yet. It’s hard to tell how fast time is passing on this show, but she must be four or five months along. After all, it has to take a while to set up a wine-based assassination attempt from a faraway land. Now-king Joffrey seems to have a lot of bloodlust, so it’s safe to say that the threats on Daenerys’s life won’t stop soon.

In other exciting news: We finally meet the Lannister patriarch! That opening scene with him and Jaime was pretty intense, so now we have a better sense of why the Lannister kids are so power-hungry. Also, major props to whoever did the sets and sound for the deer-butchering. Yes, the show has great performances and writing, but I think a lot of its greatness can be attributed to the detailed, “realistic” sets and costumes that bring this show to a different world.

D: Stupid, stubborn, honorable Ned. He couldn’t have just taken Littlefinger or Renly up on their offers, could he? No, he’s got to go “do the right thing” and support a king that nobody wants. Ned’s nobility is his best characteristic but also his fatal flaw: he’s so hellbent on playing the “game of thrones” by the rules that he hasn’t realized that no one else is playing fair. As Littlefinger points out in that absurdly excessive “I’ll Make a Prostitute Out of You” scene, you can’t beat those in power through honorable means. Ned’s in big trouble, but at least we’ll get to see more of Lena Headey, who is somehow able to portray the indomitable Cersei as the tiniest bit sympathizable. Kudos.

Although I do find the Dothraki scenes engaging, I have to say that Dothraki-land is kind of... well, ridiculous. I always get a Xena: Warrior Princess vibe from the sets and costumes, and the people themselves are more caricatures than characters. And let’s face it: Khal Drogo wears more eyeliner than Jack Sparrow. 
Guyliner: who wore it best?
My impression is that the Dothraki are modeled after the nomadic Mongol tribes of Central Asia (skilled warriors who lived in their saddles and followed their ruler, the khan- sound familiar?), but the show depicts them as little more than savage beasts. Through the eyes of the “normal”/white Targaryen siblings, we initially saw the Dothraki as “barbarians,” what with their violent sexual practices, scantily clad bodies, and grisly, gladiator-like duels.. Some episodes later, the Dothraki are slightly more humanized, but we still know little about specific individuals other than their general ferocity and loyalty to their khal and khaleesi. Even in this episode, Drogo’s reaction to the attempt on Dany’s life was no more nuanced than an impassioned stomp around the room while vowing revenge on the Seven Kingdoms, to the shrieks of a blindly adoring crowd. I seriously thought he was going to start beating his chest with his fists and howl “George of the Jungle”-style. Maybe I’m overanalyzing everything but this portrayal does seem limited and even a little problematic to me.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

GoT Review: 1x06

Season 1, Episode 06: “A Golden Crown”

I: Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think this was the first GoT episode without a brothel scene! Doris, I definitely agree that the sex/violence on this show can be excessive. However, it doesn’t bother me as long as it serves a purpose. Daenerys’s sex scene with Khal Drogo after her first love-making lesson a couple episodes back? I think that helped move the narrative forward, as it showed how Daenerys could gain some power in her marriage. Fully clothed dudes chilling with topless prostitutes for a whole scene? I’d be hard-pressed to write a thesis statement about that.

With most large-scale dramas, I find myself anticipating certain characters/settings more than others. This is certainly the case with Game of Thrones: I always look forward to the scenes in Dothraki-land.There was the incredible visual of Daenerys eating that heart and somehow managing not to throw it up. If anyone can convince the Dothraki to cross the Narrow Sea, it will be her. It certainly won’t be SuperBlonde, who was not doing so well even before his death. As graphic as the “crowning” of SuperBlonde was, it was pretty clever on Khal Drogo’s part: No blood was spilled. We also see how Daenerys’s loyalties have shifted. She and Khal Drogo now have a decent partnership going on since they know enough of each other’s languages to converse. Daenerys’s decision to let her brother die may be morally questionable, but he did try to kill her and steal her dragon eggs. If nothing else, it was a good political move on her part.

Finally, there are the Lannisters. A couple weeks ago, I wondered if the king was Joffrey’s father. It’s not looking like he is, since Joffrey is the first blonde Baratheon in generations. The only blonde families in this show are the Targaryens (unlikely) and the Lannisters (sadly likely). I might be more sympathetic to Joffrey considering this, but I don’t believe he gave Sansa that necklace out of the pure goodness of his heart. I’m still glad he did, as this led to Sansa hilariously whining “I don’t want someone brave and gentle and strong.” The revoking of the betrothal is not good for the Stark-Lannister relations, which are putting the kingdom on the brink of war. The Tyrion kidnapping is not helping matters, as Catelyn completely lost control of the situation. It was pretty fun to see Tyrion use a combination of his family name, savvy, and luck to get out of that trap. The only thing the Starks have going for them is the king’s regard for Ned. Unfortunately for the Starks, the king owes the Lannisters a ton of money. If a Lannister always pays his debts, it follows that a Lannister expects to be repaid in kind. I think things are going to get even uglier when Jaime comes back.

To close out, some choice quotes from Tyrion’s jail cell negotiations:
“No gold.” “Well, I don’t have it here.” Dinklage’s delivery was pretty perfect.
“Sometimes possession is an abstract concept!”

D: While I admit I’m liking the show more with its centralized focus, WHERE IS JON SNOW? We demand Jon Snow! Okay, maybe it’s just me. I too loved Superblonde’s gory end, especially the final image of his “crowned” head on the ground (Sleigh Bells, anyone? 2009?). I’ve got to say, Harry Lloyd did a great job playing a character that I loved to hate. Yes, he’s a villainous maniac, but he’s also a ridiculous brat who just wants to be king. Also, because it’s super relevant and more people need to realize this, SuperBlonde really resembled Sir Isaac Newton. 
I think it's the hair. And brow. And nose, partially.
One theme from this episode seems to be that playing dirty gets you ahead, while being honorable makes you dead. This is most obvious in the trial by combat, in which Tyrion’s champion Bronn defeats Lysa Arryn’s champion, Ser Vardis Egen, largely by playing dirty tricks such as throwing things at him. Last time, when Jaime 'n crew ambushed Ned 'n crew, one of the Lannister guards snuck up on Ned and speared his leg. It's dishonorable combat, but I guess anything goes when you’re fighting for your life. Then again, everyone on this show seems to put little value on their lives, given the many stupid risks that these sword-happy people take all the time. Forget the jousting; play checkers!

As Irene pointed out in last week’s review, Ned really lacks political savvy. You don’t just sit on the throne for a few hours and then order a summons for the guy who’s essentially bankrolling the kingdom and the arrest of his #1 henchman- that’s Tywin and Gregor, respectively. Come on, Ned, use your head! (I swear that rhyme was unintentional.) Even the bumbling King Robert doesn’t try to assert that kind of power over the richest man in the kingdom. Again, we can credit/blame Ned’s overly righteous morality and sense of justice for this. Oh, Ned, what are you getting yourself into?

Sunday, July 21, 2013

GoT Review: 1x05

Season 1, Episode 05: “The Wolf and the Lion”

I: Well, we’re at Season 1’s halfway point, and it looks like we’ve been set up for a pretty eventful back half. Last semester, all that some of my friends could talk about was how excited they were to watch the latest Game of Thrones episode. I’m starting to understand why. If that ending wasn’t a cliffhanger, I don’t know what was. There’s a pretty grim outlook for anyone whose name contains “Stark” or “Tyrion.” I did say that I was proud of Catelyn last week, but now all I want to do is go into the GoT universe and talk some sense into her. As brave as her actions were, she’s being pretty foolhardy. We know the Lannisters are savvy, and as Tyrion points out, savvy people do not use their own weapons to attempt murder. Plus, her actions led to something I can never unsee: a kid about six or seven breastfeeding. Thanks a lot, Catelyn. On the plus side, this led to one of my favorite little acting moments of the episode: Catelyn and Tyrion giving each other the “she’s crazy” side-eye as they watch Catelyn’s sister. Also, we got to see Tyrion’s “first.” Now that he’s been exposed to battle, I’m excited to see what he’ll be up to next. I think he’s definitely earning that Emmy - do you agree, Doris?
Although Ned is proving to be noble, he’s definitely lacking in political savvy. I spent the whole episode wanting to remind him “Loud voice, open window.” (This is what my brother and I say to remind my mother that yes, the man with the bad combover can hear what she’s saying if the car windows are down.) We’ve learned that everybody is spying on Ned, and most of these spies aren’t looking out for his best interests. I was particularly worried during the scene where Arya tells him about the threat on his life. As great as it was to see her being heroic, I just wanted Ned to go and shut the window already. Arya’s resourcefulness and bravery have given her the status of the greatest character on the show. She looks even more impressive when compared to Sansa, who continues to have the world’s worst taste in men. In fairness to Sansa, 13 year-old Irene’s judgement wasn’t much better.

Although I enjoyed this episode a lot, the show has a few too many characters. I appreciate that the writers aren’t dumbing things down, but the myriads of plotlines are becoming problematic. When that guy got stabbed in the eye in the end, I had no idea who he was. I’m pretty sure he meant something to Ned, but I can’t tell you how important he was, or how strong their relationship was. I’m planning to read the books too, so hopefully I’ll get a better sense of what’s going on. Doris, did this episode convert you, or am I alone in my renewed GoT love?

D: Haha, Irene, that’s what I’ve been saying all along! According to the Game of Thrones Wiki that I’m constantly checking, that guy was Jory Cassel, captain of the guards of House Stark, whom Arya asked to protect her father. So yeah, he was pretty important to Ned. I think this has been the best episode yet, much in thanks to the increased action and conflict. While I did miss Daenerys and Jon Snow, the omission of their storylines made the episode far more focused than its usual hodgepodge of disconnected plots (sorry, that was harsh, I know). One enduring complaint that I have to bring up is that I feel rather uneasy about all the gratuitous boobs and bloodshed, the former especially. Like, why was that one prostitute at Littlefinger’s brothel staring at Jory and essentially rubbing her breasts at him? Was that really necessary, producers? I don’t think it’s the prude in me so much as the feminist that makes this criticism, as the overt sexualization of women feels tasteless and pointless. In most cases, it’s not even “necessary” nudity, which I suppose you could make an argument for in regards to Daenerys’s plotline. It’s hard to see the faint flickers of female empowerment through all this sexual objectification.

Anyway, back to Ned. This very Ned-heavy episode has really cemented his status as the traditional “hero” figure of the show. His refusal to assassinate Daenerys and her unborn child highlights his moral code and sense of honor in contrast to the shadier members of the council. Considering how politics seems to work in Westeros (heavy on the treachery and deceit, that is), I get the feeling that the Lannisters and other would-be enemies will find him easy to take advantage of, because of these very qualities. Speaking of which, one thing that surprised me was Jaime Lannister’s apparent concern about his captured brother, Tyrion. Well, maybe “concern” is too strong a word, but he did display some sort of possessive interest in getting his brother back from the Starks, much as a little kid would screech at a peer to give back some stolen toy. I didn’t get the impression that Jaime and Tyrion cared much for each other, but this ambush incident just demonstrates how seriously everyone takes putting “family first.” Hey, would you look at that: family values on Game of Thrones! What an unexpected note to end on.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

GoT Review: 1x04

Season 1, Episode 04: “Cripples, Bastards, and Broken Things” 

I: The two themes I want to focus on this week are completely at odds with each other: unhappy bastards and kick-ass women. The “cripples, bastards, and broken things” are all defined by their limitations. We’ve got Bran Muffin’s heart-wrenching dream at the begin of the episode. (I totally fell for that fake-out.) It was nice to see Tyrion’s empathy towards Bran’s plight. He has his faults, but I’d argue that he’s one of the kindest characters on the show. Of course, Tyrion also suffers from major daddy issues. I think I counted three complaints about his dad in a minute. Not to belittle his disability (no pun intended, seriously), but he is a male Lannister. As he pointed out last episode, he is lucky enough to be a rich cripple. I think Tyrion could accomplish a few things if he cut down a bit on his carousing and used his wit to his advantage. 

We meet another not-really-bastard this week: Human Samwise Gamgee! Harsh treatment by his father, but I’m wondering if there’s more to that story. He might not have been the bravest of sons, but could he really have been that much of a failure? I’d read up on him, but I’m afraid of running into spoilers. Regardless, it’s nice to see Jon find a friend. Even though Ned treated Jon pretty decently, he certainly wasn’t viewed as a real Stark. I wouldn’t blame Jon for feeling screwed over, and it’s obvious that he empathizes with Sam on that account. Still, I’m worried about Samwise. It is a harsh world beyond the wall, especially with those snow-zombies. 

Finally, let’s talk about the actual bastards. We met the king’s bastard son working in a forge. Even though Jon Snow was raised with the Starks, it’s easy to draw parallels between him and blacksmith boy. As the sons of rulers, they should have their pick of powerful positions. Instead, they’re semi-banished into learning trades. Harsh, right? Until you compare them to every woman on this show. For starters, there was that heartbreaking scene with Arya. Doris, I definitely agree with your praise of Maisie Williams. It’s one thing to find an adorable and spunky child actress. It’s another to find one who can sell a scene like that one. The only grown women we’ve seen this show are married to powerful men or servicing powerful men. Arya may want to become a warrior, but that seems pretty unlikely. However, as Catelyn Stark showed this week, there are many types of war. Even though we know Tyrion didn’t push Bran out of a window, it was great to see her take charge and use her intricate knowledge of the kingdom to cash in on her loyalties. I kind of wish she was right, if only so I could see her be a complete badass. 

Speaking of badassery, let’s not forget Daenerys. We finally saw her stand up to Superblonde without an army behind her. She’s starting to realize that she’s the one with the power, not Superblonde. They’re both the children of a dead, mad king, but only she is a Khaleesi. I don’t know how much these women will be able to use their newfound assertiveness, but it was nice to see them being generally awesome for an episode. 

D: I too was impressed and proud of Dany, Catelyn, and Arya, all of whom tackled their problems- Superblonde, the attempted murder mystery, and gender inequality, respectively- with unflinching resolve. ( I guess we shouldn’t leave Cersei out since she’s a pretty formidable lady, too, even though she uses her powers for evil.) To add a third theme to our review, I think that the importance of history to these characters cannot be understated: everyone is obsessed with the past. Half of the time, they’re reminiscing or taunting each other about past conflicts or the since-deceased victims of said conflicts. Ned Stark plays Nate the Great in a key plot throughout this episode as he attempts to uncover the circumstances of the prior Hand’s death, while Catelyn draws from historical allegiances to call upon the House of Tully’s political allies. Less subtly, we also heard plenty of in-your-face stories ranging from cannibalism during the long winter to the Targaryen dragons to burning your six year-old brother’s face because he was playing with your toy- for once, NOT Joffrey! 

While I admit exposition is more tolerable in a British accent (thank you, Aidan Gillen, for a very charming Littlefinger), the writers of GoT have thus far failed to understand the technique of “show, don’t tell.” I think this one of the reasons why I’m not (yet) enjoying this show as much as other people seem to be. For me, what makes a television show great is an interesting ensemble of characters who have consistent personalities (ahem, Glee) but demonstrate personal growth (ahem, Big Bang Theory); most importantly, these characters need to act and react to one another so that their respective storylines are interwoven into a unified whole (again, Glee). Unfortunately, this is not something we’ve seen on GoT thus far: The Night’s Watch and the Dothraki both keep to themselves, far away from the Starks and the Lannisters, such that the three narratives feel very disconnected. Were it not for those convoluted histories of war we keep hearing about, the stories would be completely disparate. Since we’re only four episodes in, I’ll try to be patient and sit tight, but I would like to see more interactions occurring between distant characters and especially across warring Houses.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

GoT Review: 1x03

Season 1, Episode 03: “Lord Snow”

I: I’m getting way too confused by all of these characters. I just figured out that Joffrey is not Cersei’s brother, but actually her son. This raises a whole host of questions I wish I hadn’t thought of, like whether or not the king is actually Joffrey’s father. I’m also trying to figure out how the Lannisters haven’t completely screwed up their lives yet. They’re a powerful family and everything but no one seems to have any management potential. Jaime has no sense of fiscal responsibility. Joffrey’s “I Just Can’t Wait to be King” speech sounds like it’s coming from a vindictive five year-old who’s been promised way too much power. Cersei seems to be the only one with anything resembling common sense, reminding her son that “the occasional kindness will spare us all sorts of trouble down the road.” I’m seeing a lot of Lady Macbeth here. She happens to be my favorite Shakespeare character, so as far as I’m concerned this is a pretty good thing for the series. I just hope the Lannisters don’t become boringly one-dimensional. After all, a fantasy epic is only as good as its villains.

Doris, it looks like your prediction was right - we finally saw SuperBlonde get his comeuppance! I can’t decide if his torture or Arya’s fencing lessons was my favorite scene from this episode. I loved watching Ned’s face while she practiced. There’s pride there for sure, but that changes to worry and fear in the closing seconds. What could Ned be worrying about? Oh, right: WINTER IS COMING. NO MORE SUMMER. WINTER = WHAT IS COMING. Apparently this show takes place in an alternate universe, where seasons last for years and motifs are repeated a little too frequently. However, I am excited to see this winter if it means more of those weird snow-zombies from the pilot.

I don’t have much else to say, so I’ll close with my favorite Tyrion quote of the episode: “If you’re going to be a cripple, it’s better to be a rich cripple.”

D: Agreed, it did feel good to see Superblonde writhing around on the ground like the snake he is. As glad as I am that the Dothraki are loyal to Dany and are prompt about coming to her aid, I think it’s high time she stood up for herself against him. Within just two episodes she’s demonstrated remarkable growth as a Khaleesi, a lover, and a speaker of the Dothraki language, but her brother is the one person who can make her cower due to a lifetime of intimidation. He’s the last obstacle in her path towards becoming a kick-ass Khaleesi but I’m sure she can and will overcome it soon.

I really enjoyed all of Arya’s scenes too, especially the sword-fighting lesson! I was getting a sort of Inigo Montoya/Yoda vibe from her instructor, which I like. I think Arya Stark is my new favorite character (much in thanks to the actress playing her, Maisie Williams). She’s fearless, determined, and fiercely loyal to her family: even when she’s angry with Sansa for lying about the Joffrey/Nymeria/Mycah incident from the previous episode, she rightfully questions her father about how he can marry her off to that psychopath Joffrey. And speaking of whom, I love your description of his speech, Irene! I get the sense that this scene foreshadows the chaos that will arise if/when young Joffrey ascends to the throne. That will not be a fun day in the kingdom.

This episode is sort of hard to review because in spite of all the character development that took place, it feels like very little actually happened to the characters in terms of plot. Jon Snow tries to fit in at the Night’s Watch; Dany finds out she’s pregnant when her handmaiden grabs her boob (awkward); Tyrion finally gets to urinate off the Wall (which is apparently the only reason he made the journey to visit); and the Starks and the Lannisters each do a lot of talking about the other (but not with one another). We did, however, meet many new individuals such as Littlefinger, the king’s Master of Coin, whom I realized was the bad guy from Shanghai Knights after recognizing the actor’s rather distinctive voice. Catelyn Stark seems to trust him, but I think that’s a bad move, considering A) he’s probably in love with her even though she’s married and sees him as a “little brother,” B) he’s a creep who owns brothels, and C) he thinks Starks are hot-tempered and stupid. The combination of A and C does not bode well for his future relationship with Ned, so it’ll be interesting to see how that plays out.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

If I Ran the Emmy's... (Part Three)

Best Lead Actress

Amy Poehler as Leslie Knope on Parks and Rec
Consider this: Amy Poehler began her SNL stint in 2001. That means she’s been featured on our TV screens for 12 years. She has never won an Emmy. Not for her incredible writing, acting, or directing on SNL and Parks and Rec. I could go on and on about how Leslie Knope is an inspiration and how Amy Poehler’s great acting has prevented the character from being that annoying high school overachiever. But I don’t need to. Come on, Emmy voters. It’s Amy Poehler’s time.

Tina Fey as Liz Lemon on 30 Rock
30 Rock could have been a vanity project. Instead, Tina Fey was smart enough to populate the show with some great actors and let herself be the straight woman. This hasn’t prevented Liz Lemon from being absolutely hilarious. The show’s final season gave Fey the opportunity to handle a huge range of stories, from her perfectly Lemon wedding to completely upending the Stone Age notion that “women aren’t funny.” Leslie Knope is a great inspiration, but let’s be honest: We’re all really Liz Lemon at heart.

Zooey Deschanel as Jess Day on New Girl
Jess Day could easily be a ball of adorable quirks. However, Zooey Deschanel has made Jess someone a lot like the many confused 30 year olds we all love and know. Jess’s unemployment gave Deschanel a base to build a more realistic performance, and she ran with it. She’s also a great comedic actress, but we already knew that. Season 3 wish: Every episode should feature her speaking in a 1940’s newsman voice.

Mindy Kaling as Mindy Lahiri on The Mindy Project
The first season of The Mindy Project was less than the sum of its parts. By this, I mean that the many hilarious people working on the show haven’t quite figured out how to mesh the workplace and personal stories. The one thing that has been consistently right: Mindy Kaling’s performance. Mindy Lahiri is a little whiny and spoiled, but Kaling is so likable that you can’t help but laugh with her. Mindy gets extra points for some great physical comedy, especially the shower scene with the preacher boyfriend!

Best Supporting Actress

Eden Sher as Sue Heck on The Middle
Eden Sher is the most underrated actress on the most underrated show on TV. She’s one of the best physical comedians working right now, and she actually does a lot of painful looking stunts. Her earnestness is what makes us root for Sue, rather than pitying her. I could easily be annoyed by Sue Heck if she was played by any other actress. Sher makes her one of my favorite characters on TV.

Jane Krakowski as Jenna Maroney on 30 Rock
Only Jane Krakowski could make me simultaneously laugh and cry by singing a song about a rural juror. Jenna may be loathsome, but I’ve been so busy laughing at Krakowski that I’ve never really cared. Her character is a cartoon, and I mean that as a compliment. Her wonderfully bonkers performance rivals some of the The Simpsons’s greatest creations. That’s about as big a compliment as I can give.

Kate McKinnon as various characters on Saturday Night Live
After seeing an explosion of female comedians in the mid-2000’s, SNL has been more male-dominated in recent years. (I’m not accusing the show of being sexist, sometimes things just work out that way.) With that trend in mind, I was very worried when I heard Kristen Wiig would be leaving the show. Luckily, McKinnon has proved to be an amazing impressionist with her Ellen DeGeneres and Ann Romney. She was featured more in her first full year on the show than many seasoned cast members, so it’s only a matter of time before she takes over Wiig-style.

Julie Bowen as Claire Dunphy on Modern Family
Julie Bowen has a hard job. She has to play an occasionally unlikable character across from Ty Burrell, one of the funniest actors on Modern Family. However, Bowen is more than able to hold her own and minimize the writers’ seeming attempts to make Claire a complete shrew. I don’t think she deserves to win for a third year in a row, but another nomination doesn’t seem unreasonable.

Jessica Walter as Lucille Bluth on Arrested Development
On paper, Lucille Bluth sounds like the type of character I’d normally loathe: spoiled, privileged, oblivious. However, she might be my favorite character on AD and that’s all thanks to Jessica Walter’s performance. Walter makes Lucille a brilliant satire of the 1% run amok. Even more impressively, she’s able to locate some genuine emotion buried deep in Lucille’s core. Hard to do with a woman so cold her son doesn’t even know what a hug is.

Some thoughts on drama: 
I’m not familiar with most Emmy-friendly dramas except for Mad Men. I just started watching Game of Thrones, and I’m about a season behind on Downton Abbey. I’m sure Maggie Smith will get another nomination, but she can never be nominated for too many awards. Mad Men will get a best series nod, along with well-deserved albeit predictable nominations for Jon Hamm and Elisabeth Moss. I’m hoping Hamm finally wins an Emmy this year. However, this is the same voting group that never gave Steve Carell an Emmy for The Office so I’m not holding my breath. I also think Vincent Kartheiser is well overdue for an Emmy nomination, especially considering the great work he did this season. Need proof?

That’s all until July 18! You’ll know the announcements have been released when you hear someone wailing uncontrollably somewhere in the pacific northwest…